Two weeks after the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization determined that meat, eggs and milk are vital sources of much-needed nutrients, according to a study published in the journal European Heart Journal Thursday says that “vegetarian diets can play an important role in reducing clogged arteries, and thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart attack.”
As part of the new study, researchers looked at 30 randomized trials with 2,372 participants, published between 1982 and 2022. They examined the effect of vegetarian or vegan diets compared to a vegan diet, which includes animals and plants, on the following:
- total cholesterol
- low-density lipoprotein, also called LDL or “bad” cholesterol
- Triglyceride. A type of lipid, or “fat,” found in the blood
- Apolipoprotein B, also known as apoB, a type of protein that helps carry fats and cholesterol in the blood
This is the first meta-analysis on this topic published since 2017 and the first to look at the effect of continent, age, body mass index and health status, as well as the effect of diet on apoB concentrations, which is a good indicator of the total amount of bad fats and cholesterol in the body.
Benefits of a vegetarian diet
“We found that vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with a 14% decrease in all artery-clogging lipoproteins as indicated by apolipoprotein B. This corresponds to a third of the effect of taking statins such as statins, and would lead to a decrease in cholesterol-lowering drugs,” said Dr. Ruth Frick. Schmidt, MD, chief physician at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark, who conducted the study with her colleagues, said in a press release about the study.
Fricke-Schmidt also said that statin therapies, a group of drugs that can help lower LDL cholesterol, are “better” than vegan diets when it comes to lowering lipids and cholesterol levels. However, “no one is excluding other regimens, and the combination of statins and plant-based diets is likely to have a synergistic effect, resulting in a greater beneficial effect.”
Compared to omnivores, those on a plant-based diet experienced an average reduction in total cholesterol levels of 7% over levels observed at the beginning of the studies; 10% decrease in bad cholesterol levels; and a 14% decrease in apoB levels.
In addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, other benefits of a plant-based diet include reducing the risk of:
“If people start eating vegetarian or vegan diets at an early age, the potential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease from clogged arteries is significant,” Freky-Schmidt continued. “Importantly, we found similar results across continents, ages, different BMI ranges, and among people with different health conditions.”
In addition to health benefits for humans, vegan diets have a positive impact on the environment, according to research.
Recent systematic reviews have shown that if people in high-income countries switched to plant-based diets, it could reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by between 35% and 49%. Our study provides strong evidence that plant-based diets are good for our health for people of all sizes, ages, and health conditions,” Freike-Schmidt said.
Experts say vegetarian and vegan diets may help offset the rising costs of age-related diseases facing aging populations globally.
“Vegetarian diets are key tools for changing food production to more environmentally sustainable forms, while at the same time reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease,” said Freeke Schmidt. “We should eat a varied diet rich in plants, not too much, and quench our thirst with water.”