Vegetarians may have lower heart disease risk and higher stroke risk.
Vegetarian and vegan diets have long been touted as being healthier. I was taught in my liberal medical school education that humans and our environment would be better off if we would all switch to a vegetarian diet. Veganism has become increasingly popular in recent years and it has been reported to cure everything including global warming. Medical evidence is not so clear and it suggests that vegetarians might have mixed bag of risks. The problem is that very few studies have truly looked at the risks of vegetarian diets and those that did are biased toward them.
The good news is that a new prospective cohort study from 2019 looked at this topic by examining the associations of vegetarianism with risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke. The study was performed in the United Kingdom with a population of over 48K subjects. Participants had to be without a history of ischaemic heart disease, stroke, or angina and they were classified into three distinct diet groups: meat-eaters, fish-eaters, and vegetarians or vegans. The researchers looked at the incidence cases of ischemic heart disease and stroke.
The researchers followed the subjects for over 18 years of follow-up. They found that there was a significantly increased risk of ischemic heart disease in meat-eaters over both fish-eaters and vegetarian but that the vegetarians had a higher risk of stroke. The associations for stroke did not appear to be tied to any other risks or dietary habits.
I have always been suspicious of the benefits of veganism. I know I would be miserable on a vegan diet. The question I have is what is relative risk rate and would you rather live longer as a vegan in a diaper after a stroke. Then again, the risk is probably higher tha you would suffer a heart attack that a stroke for either group.
The bottom line: It is not surprising that fish-eaters and vegetarians had lower rates of ischaemic heart disease than meat-eaters, but surprisingly, vegetarians had higher rates of hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke. I would like to see further studies but it is clear that veganism is not without risk.
- T. Y. N. Tong et al., “Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study,” BMJ, p. l4897, Sep. 2019 [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4897