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Becoming a Vegetarian Could Cut Heart Disease Risk by 32 Percent

Update Date: Jan 30, 2013 01:03 PM EST

Laying off the meat and fish and becoming a vegetarian could reduce the risk of heart disease by up to a third, a new study has revealed.

"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," lead researcher Dr. Francesca Crowe, from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, said in a news release.

For the study, researchers at England's Oxford University followed almost 45,000 adults from England and Scotland enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford study.   Researchers said that about 34 percent of all participants were vegetarian. According to the investigators, having such a large proportion of vegetarians is rare and allowed researchers to make more precise estimates of the relative risks between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

The volunteers in the study were recruited to the study throughout the 1990s.  All participants were asked to complete questionnaires about their health and lifestyle when they joined. The surveys included many questions on factors that influence health like diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption.  Researchers said that almost 20,000 of the volunteers also had their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked and were monitored until 2009.

During the follow-up study period, researcher identified 1,235 cases of hear disease, including 169 deaths and 1,066 hospital diagnoses.

The latest findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that vegetarians had a 32 percent lower chance of being hospitalized or dying from heart disease compared to people who ate meat and fish.  The study found that vegetarians tended to have lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels compared to non-vegetarians.  Researchers also found that vegetarians were typically slimmer and had fewer cases of diabetes, but these two factors were not found to significantly affect the results.

According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of death in developed countries and accounted for around 17.3 million deaths in 2008 worldwide.

The latest study supports past research showing that a healthy diet can lower the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk of diabetes. 

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