A new review concludes that plant-based diets improve heart health.
Currently, in the United States, vegetarianism and veganism are steadily becoming more popular.
Touted as a more healthful option, many people are working to reduce their meat intake.
In the past few decades, numerous studies have demonstrated that restricting meat impacts the body in a number of positive ways.
A recent review, now published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Disease, focused on the benefits of a plant-based diet on cardiovascular health, specifically.
Plant-based diets and heart health
The researchers — from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington D.C. — scrutinized reams of recent, relevant studies.
Collating information from a host of clinical trials and observational studies, they found that a plant-based diet was consistently linked with improved measures of heart health.
They concluded, for individuals following a plant-based diet, that:
- Risk of death from cardiovascular disease is reduced by 40 percent.
- Coronary heart disease risk is reduced by 40 percent.
- Blocked arteries are unblocked partially or fully in as many as 91 percent of patients.
- Hypertension risk drops by 34 percent.
Also, total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol levels are much lower in vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians. Moreover, a plant-based diet was shown to be associated with weight loss.
"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."
Study author Dr. Hana Kahleova, Ph.D.
Dr. Kahleova also notes that more healthful diets and lifestyles lower the risk of heart attack by 81–94 percent, while drugs can only lower this risk by 20–30 percent.
How does vegetarianism protect the heart?
There seem to be many reasons why a plant-based diet is more healthful for the heart than a meat-heavy one. It seems that plants impart some benefits, while meat increases certain risks.
For instance, plants are rich in fiber and phytonutrients, which are known to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Also, animal products are often high in fat, cholesterol, heme iron, and environmental pollutants.
However, this is a complex interaction, and there may be many more factors involved that are, as yet, unknown.
Heart disease is responsible for the deaths of more than 600,000 U.S. individuals each year, and it remains the leading cause of death, globally. However, these findings show that if society could be gently nudged toward plant-based diets and away from excessive meat consumption, humanity's heart health could be substantially improved.
As Dr. Kahleova notes, with more than a dash of positivity, "Heart disease is the world's leading cause of death. This study proves it doesn't have to be."