Vegetarian and vegan diets protect us from fat and cholesterol

Vegetarian and vegan diets are related to lower levels of cholesterol and fats in the blood, according to a meta-analysis that includes about thirty clinical trials published between 1980 and 2022. The research is published in the “European Heart Journal.”

The study authors say this means that plant-based diets may play an important role in reducing clogging of the arteries, thereby lowering the risk of heart and vascular diseases, such as stroke and heart attack.

The researchers analyzed 30 randomized trials with a total of 2,372 participants, published between 1982 and 2022, that quantify the effect of vegetarian or vegan versus omnivorous diets on levels of all types of cholesterol (colesterol total), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL cholesterol, often known as “bad” cholesterol), triglycerides (a type of fat or “lipid” found in the blood), and apoliprotein B (apoB, a protein that helps carry fat and cholesterol in the blood and is a good indicator of the total amount of bad fats and cholesterol in the body). Although previous meta-analyses have investigated this, none have been published since 2017, none have addressed the impact of continent, age, body mass index, and health status, and none have specifically looked at the effect of diet on concentrations of apoB.

“We found that vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with a 14% reduction in all artery-clogging lipoproteins, as indicated by apoliprotein B. This corresponds to one-third the effect of taking cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins. , and it would imply a 7% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease in someone who maintained a plant-based diet for five years”, says Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, from the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark, who led the study together with the student of medicine Caroline Amalie Koch and Emilie Westerlin Kjeldsen. “Statin therapy is superior to plant-based diets in reducing fat and cholesterol levels. However, one regimen does not exclude the other, and it is likely that the combination of statins with plant-based diets will have a synergistic effect, leading to even greater beneficial effect.”

“If people start following vegetarian or vegan diets from an early age, the potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease caused by clogged arteries is substantial. Importantly, we found similar results across continents, ages, different ranges of body mass index, and among people with different health states.”

Participants in the 30 studies were randomly assigned to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet or to continue an omnivorous diet (including meat and dairy products). The duration of the diets ranged from ten days to five years, with a mean of 29 weeks.

Compared with people on an omnivorous diet, those on a plant-based diet experienced an average 7% reduction in total cholesterol levels from levels measured at baseline, a 10% reduction from LDL cholesterol levels and a 14% reduction in apoB levels.

More than 18 million people die every year in the world from cardiovascular diseases (CVD), which makes them the main cause of death. The United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda states that premature deaths from non-communicable diseases, such as CVD, must be reduced by one third by 2030. In addition, more and more attention is being paid to the effect of what we eat on the environment.

The meta-analysis by Frikke-Schmidt and colleagues was unable to assess the potential benefits of diets directly comparing fish versus omnivorous diets due to a lack of such studies in the scientific literature. “However, the Mediterranean diet is rich in plant foods and fish, and is well established as beneficial in dietary guidelines,” she said.

Professor Kevin Maki, from Indiana University Bloomington School of Public Health and Midwest Biomedical Research (USA), and Professor Carol Kirkpatrick, from Midwest Biomedical Research and Idaho State University (USA). .), who were not involved in the research, comment in an accompanying editorial that “the results presented by Koch et al add to the body of evidence supporting the favorable effects of healthy vegan and vegetarian dietary patterns on circulating levels of LDL- C. [colesterol LDL] and atherogenic lipoproteins, which are expected to reduce the risk of ASCVD [ECV aterosclerótica]. Although it is not necessary to completely omit foods such as meat, poultry, and fish/seafood to follow a recommended dietary pattern, cutting back on these foods is a reasonable option for those who prefer to do so.».

One of the strengths of the study is that, to the authors’ knowledge, it is the largest systematic review on the subject and the first to include apoB. However, limitations include the fact that individual randomized controlled trials were relatively small, the duration of participants’ diets was less than one year in many studies, and it was impossible to blind participants to which diet they were on. they were undergoing, which could have influenced their other behaviors that could affect cholesterol and fat levels.

By Editor

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