Plant-based diets reduce risk of heart disease by 40 percent

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01 Jun 2018 --- Vegetarian, especially vegan, diets are linked to better cardiovascular health, according to a new review published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. Around the globe, cardiovascular disease is responsible for 46 percent of non-communicable disease deaths, or 17.5 million deaths a year, making it the leading cause of death. But according to the researchers, this study proves it doesn't have to be.

Researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine looked at multiple clinical trials and observational studies and found strong and consistent evidence that plant-based dietary patterns can prevent and reverse atherosclerosis and decrease other markers of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, including blood pressure, blood lipids and weight.

The review found that a plant-based diet:

  • Reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 40 percent.
  • Reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 40 percent.
  • Fully or partially opens blocked arteries in up to 91 percent of patients.
  • Reduces the risk of hypertension by 34 percent.
  • Is associated with 29 mg/dL and 23 mg/dL lower total cholesterol and LDL-C levels, respectively, compared with non-vegetarian diets.
  • Is associated with weight loss.
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Image credit: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

“A plant-based diet has the power to not only prevent heart disease, but also manage and sometimes even reverse it – something no drug has ever done,” says study author Hana Kahleova, M.D., Ph.D., Physicians Committee director of clinical research.

The review notes that a healthy diet and lifestyle reduces the risk for a heart attack by 81-94 percent, while medications can only reduce the risk by 20-30 percent.

In an earlier report on NutritionInsight, Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT and author of Plant-Based Nutrition (Idiot's Guide) Second Edition, notes that although those who follow a vegan diet may need to supplement certain nutrients, it is likely that the very nutrients vegan diets happen to be limited in may be what makes it so successful at reducing the risk of age-related chronic diseases. 

Plant-based diets benefit heart health because they're rich in fiber and phytonutrients – like carotenoids, anthocyanins and lycopene – which reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Animal products are packed with saturated fat, cholesterol, heme iron, and environmental pollutants and can harm heart health.

Plant-based lifestyles are quite notably on the rise, Innova Market Insights data has shown. New food and beverage launches with a vegan positioning found an average annual growth rate of +44.8 percent globally (CAGR ’13-’17) when 2013 is used as a base of 100. Vegan products have become more mainstream and we now see a much higher prevalence of food companies moving straight beyond vegetarian to vegan. The plant-based food market has been projected to grow at double-digit rates and expected to reach US$5.2 billion worldwide by 2020.