A recent study published in a renowned medical journal, BMJ, has found that vegans, vegetarians, and pescetarians (those who eat fish, not meat) have a relatively lower risk of heart disease. However, vegetarians and vegans have been found to have a greater stroke risk than meat-eaters.
Researchers at the University of Oxford tracked more than 48,000 people, who were classified into vegetarians (vegans), meat-eaters, and pescetarians. The participants had no history of stroke or coronary heart disease (CHD). The researchers followed all the participants for 18 years.
During the study period, the researchers reported more than 2,800 CHD cases and over 1,000 stroke cases, including hemorrhagic stroke and ischemic stroke. The researchers noted that vegans were found to have a 22 percent lower risk of CHD and pescetarians were found to have a 13 percent lower risk of CHD.
The researchers said in a statement, “The difference may be at least partly due to lower BMI and lower rates of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes linked to these diets.”
The investigators also found that vegans and vegetarians had almost 20 percent higher stroke risk than meat-eaters, which is, according to the researchers, “equivalent to three more cases of stroke per 1,000 people over 10 years, mainly due to a higher rate of hemorrhagic stroke.” The stroke risk was less among pescetarians.
Lead study author Tammy Tong said, “It does seem that the lower risk of coronary heart diseases does exceed the higher risk of stroke if we look at the absolute numbers.”
The exact cause has not been established yet. However, the researchers wrote, “Those who follow vegetarian and vegan diets had lower circulating cholesterol and levels of several nutrients than meat-eaters, such as vitamin B12.”
Sarah McNaughton and Mark Lawrence from the Deakin University in Australia, who were not a part of the study, said, “The higher relative risk of stroke among vegetarians is a new contribution to the body of evidence on the health effects of a vegetarian diet.”
However, the authors of the study have warned that the findings were observational. They said, “The findings may not be widely applicable because they were mainly based on white Europeans.”
McNaughton and Lawrence said, “It is based on results from just one study and the increase is modest relative to meat-eaters. Relevance to vegetarians worldwide must also be considered.” “Participants were all from the U.K. where dietary patterns and other lifestyle behaviors are likely very different from those prevalent in low and middle-income countries where most of the world’s vegetarians live,” added McNaughton and Lawrence.