In a recent study of more than 70,000 people, vegetarians were linked with a lower death rate when compared to meat-eaters.
“Vegetarian dietary patterns have been associated with reductions in risk for several chronic diseases, such as hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus, and ischemic heart disease, which might be expected to result in lower mortality,” researchers wrote.
“I think this adds to the evidence showing the possible beneficial effect of vegetarian diets in the prevention of chronic diseases and the improvement of longevity,” lead author Dr. Michael Orlich, program director of the preventative medicine residency at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California said to Reuters.
Researchers took data from 73,308 people in the U.S. and Canadian Seventh-day Adventist churches between 2002 and 2007. Participants took a survey about their eating habits and were then separated into categories based on their diet.
Participants were classified as vegans if they avoided eggs, dairy, fish, and meat (7.6%); lacto-ovo-vegetarians if they ate eggs and dairy but avoided fish and meat (28.9%); pesco-vegetarians if they consumed fish but not meat (9.8%); and semi-vegetarian if they ate fish or meat no more than once weekly (5.5%).
The researchers then used a national database to see how many of the participants died by December 31, 2009.
Overall, they found about seven people died of any cause per 1,000 meat eaters over a year. That compared to about five or six deaths per 1,000 vegetarians every year.
Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston and was not involved with the study, told Reuters Health, “It’s important to note that the vegetarians in this study were more highly educated, less likely to smoke, exercised more and were thinner.”
Oddly enough, men seemed to benefit the most from a vegetarian diet.
“I don’t have any strong speculations, but it could be that the diet is playing out differently due to biological factors in men and women,” says Orlich, who plans to look deeper into what specific foods and nutrients may be responsible for the association.
The research is published in JAMA Internal Medicine on June 3, 2013.
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