Vegetarians experience a 36 percent lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome than non-vegetarians, suggests new research from Loma Linda University published in the journal Diabetes Care. Because metabolic syndrome can be a precursor to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, the findings indicate vegetarians may be at lower risk of developing these conditions.
A previous analysis of data from 52,700 men and women in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that those who did not eat meat had significantly fewer cancers overall than those who did.
Other studies in the International Journal of Cancer found that vegetarians who had migrated to England from the Indian subcontinent or East Africa and maintained their native diet of vegetables and legumes had a slightly lower risk of breast cancer than their peers who adopted a Western-style diet, regardless of economic and social factors.
“It seems that cancer is not the only chronic disease that can be prevented with a vegetarian diet,” said Lauren Alamenich lead researcher on global cancer trends. “The incidence metabolic syndrome is also reduced.”
Metabolic syndrome is defined as exhibiting at least three out of five total risk factors: high blood pressure, elevated HDL cholesterol, high glucose levels, elevated triglycerides, and an unhealthy waist circumference. The Loma Linda University study found that while 25 percent of vegetarians had metabolic syndrome, the number significantly rises to 37 percent for semi-vegetarians and 39 percent for non-vegetarians. The results hold up when adjusted for factors such as age, gender, race, physical activity, calories consumed, smoking, and alcohol intake.
“In view of the high rate of metabolic syndrome in the United States and its deleterious health effects, we wanted to examine lifestyle patterns that could be effective in the prevention and possible treatment of this disorder,” says lead researcher Nico S. Rizzo, PhD.
“I was not sure if there would be a significant difference between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, and I was surprised by just how much the numbers contrast,” he continues. “It indicates that lifestyle factors such as diet can be important in the prevention of metabolic syndrome.”
The study examined more than 700 adults randomly sampled from Loma Linda University’s Adventist Health Study 2, a long-term study of the lifestyle and health of almost 100,000 Seventh-day Adventist Christians across the United States and Canada.
Thirty-five percent of the subjects in this smaller sub-study were vegetarian. On average, the vegetarians and semi-vegetarians were three years older than non-vegetarians. Despite their slightly older age, vegetarians had lower triglycerides, glucose levels, blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass index (BMI). Semi-vegetarians also had a significantly lower BMI and waist circumference compared to those who ate meat more regularly.
“This work again shows that diet improves many of the main cardiovascular risk factors that are part of metabolic syndrome,” says Gary Fraser, MD, PhD, principal investigator of Adventist Health Study 2. “Trending toward a plant-based diet is a sensible choice.”