Vegan diets lower cholesterol and benefit the heart, new study finds
Those who follow plant-based diets may have a lower risk of heart disease, according to recently published research. In part, due to the reduction of cholesterol in the blood.
The study was published yesterday (24 May) in the European journal of the heart, a peer-reviewed cardiology medical journal. According to the study authors, it is the largest systematic review of its kind.
Researchers in Denmark conducted the meta-analysis to better understand the effect of vegan and vegetarian diets on the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The area of interest is significant, given that cardiovascular disease is responsible for the death of approximately 18 million people each year. This makes it the leading cause of death worldwide.
The study authors analyzed data from 30 randomized trials with a total of 2,372 participants, published between 1982 and 2022.
In particular, they looked at blood levels of total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or “bad” cholesterol), triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) and apolipoprotein B (or apoB, a protein that helps carry cholesterol and fats around the body).
Researchers found that compared to those who ate animal products, vegans and vegetarians had lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and apoB.
Specifically, the plant-based diets reduced “bad” cholesterol by 10% and total cholesterol by 7%. Levels of apoB – the main protein in LDL cholesterol – fell by 14% for those who ate no meat.
“We found that vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with a 14% reduction in all artery-clogging lipoproteins, as indicated by apoliprotein B,” said study author Professor Ruth Frikke. -Schmidt, in a statement.
“This is one-third of the effect of taking cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins,” she said. If someone were to maintain a plant-based diet for five years, she added, it would “result in a 7% reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Rounded approach to heart health
Frikke-Schmidt noted that statin therapy remains “superior,” but that “one regimen does not exclude the other.” In other words, using statins while adhering to a plant-based diet “is likely to have a synergistic effect, resulting in an even greater beneficial effect,” she said.
Adopting plant-based eating habits early in life could further increase these benefits. “If people start eating vegetarian or vegan at an early age, the potential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease caused by clogged arteries is significant,” continued Frikke-Schmidt, chief medical officer at Rigshospitalet Copenhagen.
“Importantly, we found similar results across continents, ages, different body mass index ranges, and among people in different health states,” she added.
The Danish study is not the first to establish links between diet and heart disease. A study published last year found that one serving of red meat can increase the risk of CVD by 22%.
Along the same lines, two separate studies published the previous year found that plant-based foods could reduce the risk of heart disease. This was true even for those who adopted animal-free diets later in life.
Encouraging the public to switch to plant-based diets would also benefit the planet, Frikke-Schmidt pointed out.
“Recent systematic reviews have shown that if people in high-income countries adopt plant-based diets, it can reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 35-49%,” she explained. .
Along with reduced emissions, vegan foods are associated with reduced deforestation, water use, and pollution.
“Plant-based diets are key instruments for transforming food production into more environmentally friendly forms,” Frikke-Schmidt said, “while reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease.”
The researchers highlighted the potential limitations of their recent work. This includes how long study participants followed their diets (times ranged from ten days to five years). Also, the individual randomized controlled trials were relatively small.
More studies with larger sample sizes would deepen the field’s understanding of the link between diet and disease.