With more and more people shifting towards a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, researchers are also shifting their focus on studying the potential health benefits and risks of such a diet. A recent cohort study, published in The British Medical Journal (BMJ), suggests that vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of heart diseases and stroke as compared to their meat-eating counterparts.
In this study, 48,188 individuals, without a history of ischaemic heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease, were put into three different diet groups – meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians. The study was followed up over a period of 18 years and recorded 2,820 ischaemic heart disease cases and 1072 stroke cases. It showed that vegetarians had a 20 percent higher rate of hemorrhagic strokes, which is equivalent to three more cases of stroke per 1,000 individuals over a course of 10 years. At the same time, those following a fish-based diet didn’t have any significant increase in stroke rates.
The lead researcher of the study, Tammy Tong, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said, “It does seem that the lower risk of coronary heart diseases exceeds the higher risk of stroke if we look at the absolute numbers.” She also added that this risk might be associated with a lower cholesterol and nutrition content (such as a B12 deficiency) in a vegetarian diet, while still not being very clear about the exact reasons.
On the other hand, the results showed that fish eaters and vegetarians had 13 percent and 22 percent lower rates of ischaemic heart diseases compared to meat eaters. This accounts for ten fewer cases of ischaemic heart disease in vegetarians, per 1000 individuals over a period of ten years.