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Going Vegetarian Cuts Death Risk, Study Confirms

Update Date: Jun 03, 2013 04:09 PM EDT

Vegetarianism has long been linked to a variety of health benefits.  Previous studies found that vegetarians are less likely to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and hypertension. Now, a new study confirms that vegetarian diets can significantly lower the risk of death.

The study, which included more than 70,000 people part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, found that the vegetarian diet benefitted men more than women.

The latest research, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at all-cause and cause-specific mortality in a group of 73,308 men and women Seventh-day Adventists. Followers of the Adventist church are often vegetarian and adhere to the kosher laws in Leviticus.  Adventists are advised to abstain from pork, shellfish and other foods deemed "unclean". 

The study looked at dietary patients using a questionnaire that categorized participants into five groups: non-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian (includes seafood), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (includes dairy and egg products) and vegan (excludes all animal products).

The findings revealed that vegetarian groups were generally older, more highly educated and more likely to be married.  They were also less likely to drink alcohol, smoke tobacco and more likely to exercise and be thinner.

"Some evidence suggests vegetarian dietary patterns may be associated with reduced mortality, but the relationship is not well established," researchers noted.

Overall, there were 2,570 deaths among the study participants during an average follow-up time of almost six years.  The overall death rate was six deaths per 1,000 person per year.  Researchers found that vegetarians were 12 percent less likely to die of all-cause mortality compared to non-vegetarians. 

Researchers also found that the vegetarian diet benefited men more than women.  They found that men who were vegetarian were significantly less likely to die of cardiovascular disease and ischaemic heart disease.  However, researchers found no significant reductions in these categories of mortality in women.

"Future analysis will evaluate possible effect modification by sex for particular foods or nutrients, which may suggest sex-specific mechanisms," researchers wrote in the study.

"These results demonstrate an overall association of vegetarian dietary patterns with lower mortality compared with the nonvegetarian dietary pattern. They also demonstrate some associations with lower mortality of the pesco-vegetarian, vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets specifically compared with the nonvegetarian diet," researchers conclude.

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