A vegetarian diet can boost blood pressure and cholesterol

A Cancer Research UK and the UK Medical Research Council-funded study featured in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that those who adhere to a vegetarian diet and ditch meat and fish will see major health benefits over their meat-eating peers.

The findings of what is the largest study of its kind, could persuade some people to give-up meat in favour of veg and comes ironically only weeks after the Tesco horse meat scandal where some of their own-branded beef burgers were found to contain as much as 29% horse meat.

Scientists at the University of Oxford analysed 44,561 people in England and Scotland, recruiting participants over the age of 20 during 1993 to 1997. They specifically wanted vegetarians and vegans in the study to look at associations between nutrition and general health in contrast to the general UK population.

All participants were required to fill out a food-frequency questionnaire that quizzed them on what food they ate over the previous year, in addition to asking them about exercise, smoking habits and alcohol consumption. The researchers classified people as either non-vegetarian if they said they had eaten any meat or fish, or as vegetarian if they reported eating no meat or fish. For study purposes, vegetarians and vegans were categorised together (about 15,100 in total).

Over the course of an average 11.6 years of follow-ups, there were 1,235 cases of ischaemic heart disease (IHD). From this number, 169 people in the study had died as a result of heart disease and there were 1,066 recorded hospital admissions.

After taking into account factors such as age, gender, physical activity, smoking, alcohol intake, education and social background, it was calculated that being a vegetarian can decrease the risk of death or hospital admission from heart disease by a staggering 32%. Amazingly, a reduced risk was evident in both continuous vegetarians and in those who had begun eating meat at the five year follow-up.

If that wasn’t enough of a persuader to ditch the meat, vegetarians were also found to have lower levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in their blood and a lower systolic blood pressure reading. Moreover, they were typically more slender with a lower body mass index (BMI) than the meat eaters, and had a reduced risk of developing diabetes.

Dr Francesca Crowe, author of the study at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, said: “Most of the difference in risk is probably caused by effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, and shows the important role of diet in the prevention of heart disease.”

Co-author Professor Tim Key, deputy director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, added: “The results clearly show the risk of heart disease in vegetarians is about a third lower than in non-vegetarians.”

Red meat – particularly processed meat – comprises of numerous ingredients that have been regular attributed to increased risk of chronic diseases including bowel cancer. Such ingredients include heme iron, saturated fat, sodium, nitrites and certain carcinogens that are formed during the cooking process. At least by hitting the daily recommended intake of five portions of fruit and veg means that people can benefit from their antioxidant properties that work at reducing cholesterol, control blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of many types of cancer.

Cardiovascular disease is responsible for the largest number of deaths in the developed world. According to World Health Organisation statistics, it claimed 17.3 million lives in 2008 worldwide, with 6.2 million of these from strokes. A famous figure who almost succumbed to heart disease was former U.S. President Bill Clinton, once notorious for his strong penchant for hamburgers; he was required to have a coronary bypass operation in 2004 and is now leads a much better lifestyle.

As highlighted earlier, high cholesterol is a primary contributor for heart disease. However, Medical Specialists Pharmacy provides online consultations for patients with high cholesterol and with our help you can reduce the risk of developing heart problems. For suitable patients our in-house doctors can prescribe statin medication (Lipitor and Crestor), and our in house pharmacists can dispense to patients within 24 hours. We also dispense statins for patients who can provide a private prescription, and in 2012 we introduced the legally available generic Atorvastatin at much lower prices for suitable patients.

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