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Thursday, June 6, 2013
Vegetarians May Live Longer
By Denise Mann, HealthDay News
MONDAY, June 3, 2013 (HealthDay News) — Vegetarians may live longer than meat-lovers, new research suggests.
"Certain vegetarian diets are associated with reductions in all
causes of [death] as well as some specific causes including heart
disease, kidney-related deaths and endocrine disease-related death such
as diabetes," said lead researcher Dr. Michael Orlich, a preventive
medicine specialist at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda.
The big question is why, and the study wasn't designed to answer that, Orlich noted.
"Reductions in meat in the vegetarian diet may be part of it, but
it may be due to higher quantities of plant foods," he added, although
it is also possible that vegetarians may lead more healthy lives.
The research was published online June 3 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
For the study, the researchers used a food questionnaire to assess
dietary patterns and looked at men and women who adhered to one of five
diets: non-vegetarian; semi-vegetarian (eats meat or fish no more than
once a week); pesco-vegetarian (consumes seafood); lacto-ovo-vegetarian
(includes both dairy products and eggs), and vegans, who don't eat any
During the course of the more than five-year study, 2,570 people
died. But vegetarians were about 12 percent less likely to die from any
cause than their meat-eating counterparts, the study showed. And the
survival edge seemed to be stronger in men than women.
In addition, the researchers noted that vegetarians tended to be
older and more educated, exercised more and were less likely to drink
alcohol or smoke than their carnivorous counterparts.
The study also did not pinpoint which type of vegetarian diet
provides the greatest survival benefit because the vegetarian diets were
compared to non-vegetarian diets only, not to one another.
The research team now plans to look at the patterns of food
consumption seen in each vegetarian diet. "We want to see what they eat
more or less of, and then investigate the effect on mortality or
associated with specific foods," Orlich said. "Are there particular
foods that account for most of this apparent association. Is the lack of
meat the big issue, or is the amount of plant-based foods responsible?"
Nancy Copperman, a dietician at North Shore Long Island Jewish
Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. , said that the fiber in vegetarian
diets may be what's driving the survival edge. "It's not just fruit and
vegetables, but all types of fiber [including whole grains] that seems
to really reduce health risks," she said. "The new study pushes the
literature that we are building about the impact that whole grains and
fruits and vegetables can have on your health."
But Rebecca Solomon, a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Medical Center
in New York City, noted that plant-based diets can be beneficial only if
they are done right. "You need to make sure that you have a good
nutrient balance despite omission of certain or all animal products,"
For example, she said, some vegetarians may overdo the
carbohydrates and fats, which can lead to weight gain and its associated
"My general advice is that you don't need to be a vegetarian to
improve your health and lifespan," she said. "Eating lean protein such
as poultry and fish and following some of the principles of the
Mediterranean diet, which includes generous amounts of vegetables,
fruits and whole grains and is not red-meat heavy, can be very
For a diehard vegan like Stephanie Prather, 45, the news may come as no surprise.
Prather hasn't eaten any animal products in more than two years,
and actually changed careers midstream to become a vegan pastry chef.
Her impetus was a high-profile documentary about the benefits of a
Not only does she feel better, Prather said, but she has lost close
to 20 pounds since giving up all animal products in her diet.
The latest research follows a British study released in January
that showed vegetarians had about a third less risk of hospitalization
or death from cardiovascular disease than meat-eaters did.