FRIDAY, May 26, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Vegetarian and vegan diets lead to lower levels of cholesterol and blood fats, according to a major new analysis of all evidence from clinical trials published since 1982.
Compared to people following an omnivorous diet, those following a plant-based diet experienced an average reduction in total cholesterol levels of 7% from levels measured at baseline, a 10% reduction in cholesterol levels “bad” LDL and a 14% reduction in apolipoprotein B, a blood protein used to estimate cholesterol level, according to the analysis.
These results showed that plant-based diets can play a significant role in narrowing blocked arteries, thereby lowering the risk of stroke and heart attacks, the researchers concluded in the review published May 24 in European Journal of the Heart.
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“If people start eating vegetarian or vegan diets at an early age, the potential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease caused by blocked arteries is substantial,” said lead researcher Dr. Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, chief physician at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“Importantly, we found similar results across continents, ages, different body mass index ranges, and among people in different health states,” Frikke-Schmidt said in a press release.
Vegetarian and vegan diets benefited normal-weight to obese people, the researchers found.
For the review, researchers analyzed data from 30 clinical trials, with nearly 2,400 participants, published between 1982 and 2022.
Participants in the 30 studies were randomly assigned to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet or continue with an omnivorous diet that included meat and dairy. Diet time ranged from 10 days to five years, with an average of 29 weeks.
It is the first review of evidence comparing omnivorous and vegetarian diets published since 2017, and none before had considered apolipoprotein B levels or the impact of continent, age, body mass index and health status, the researchers said.
More than 18 million people die from heart disease each year worldwide, making it the leading cause of death worldwide, the researchers noted.
They added that a switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet could also help curb climate change.
“Recent systematic reviews have shown that if populations in high-income countries switch to plant-based diets, it can reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by between 35% and 49%. Our study provides robust evidence that plant-based diets are good for our health for people of different sizes, ages and health conditions,” said Frikke-Schmidt.
“In addition, populations around the world are aging and, as a consequence, the cost of treating age-related diseases such as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is increasing,” she continued. “Plant-based diets are key tools for shifting food production to more environmentally sustainable ways, while reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease. We should eat a varied diet rich in vegetables, not too much, and quench our thirst with water.”
Frikke-Schmidt noted that cholesterol-lowering statins are still superior to plant-based diets in reducing fat and cholesterol levels.
However, one regimen does not exclude the other, and combining statins with plant-based diets is likely to have a synergistic effect, resulting in even greater benefits, Frikke-Schmidt said.
The meta-analysis also could not directly compare the fish-based “Mediterranean” diet to omnivorous diets, due to the lack of such studies in the scientific literature, the researchers note.
“However, the Mediterranean diet is rich in plant-based foods and fish and is well established as beneficial in dietary guidelines,” said Frikke-Schmidt.
The researchers said that more, larger studies are needed. These studies are expected to last longer and track additional factors like apolipoprotein B and other biomarkers linked to conditions like inflammation and insulin resistance.
Harvard Medical School has more on becoming a vegetarian.
SOURCE: European Journal of the Heartpress release, May 25, 2023