Heart Disease Lower, Stroke Risk Higher for Vegans and Vegetarians

Human head nerves model Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash
Human head nerves model Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Emergency medicine physician Zachary Lutsky, MD, has served as an attending physician in the emergency department at such institutions as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Santa Clara Valley Medical. Through these roles, Dr. Zachary Lutsky has become familiar with such things as stroke prevention and recognition.

According to research from the University of Oxford, the risk of heart disease in people who have a vegan or vegetarian diet is about 22 percent lower than people who eat meat. This benefit is also seen in pescatarians, who eat only fish, though at a reduced incidence of a 13 percent lower risk of heart disease.

Unfortunately, this benefit could come at a cost. Both vegans and vegetarians were about 20 percent more likely to experience a stroke than people who ate meat. Specifically, they had a higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke, a specific type of stroke associated with greater amounts of damage than ischemic strokes. Not only that, but hemorrhagic strokes were more deadly.

To get these results, researchers examined nearly 48,200 individuals with no history of stroke or heart disease. Of these, 16,254 people were vegans or vegetarians, 24,428 ate meat, and 7,506 only consumed fish. Each group was followed for 18 years, and the researchers tracked the number of stroke and ischemic heart disease that occurred during that time.

At the end of the follow-up period, there were 2,280 cases of heart disease and 1,072 cases of stroke. Based on the results, about 10 more meat eaters out of 1,000 people develop heart disease over 10 years. Meanwhile, about three more vegans and vegetarians out of 1,000 subjects experienced stroke over the same period. While more research is needed, it’s believed that the increased risk of stroke is linked to a lack of essential nutrients in vegans and vegetarians.

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