Vegan or vegetarian diets are associated with a lower concentration of blood lipids such as cholesterol. Since some of these lipids cause atherosclerosis by accumulating in the walls of the arteries, following this type of diet can reduce the risk of suffering from some cardiovascular diseases. This is the conclusion of an analysis of some thirty clinical trials carried out over the last 40 years that has just been published in the journal European Heart Journal. The researchers, led by Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), frame the relevance of their results in the United Nations sustainable development agenda, which proposes reducing premature mortality caused by non-communicable diseases by a third, such as cancer or heart disease.
The work points to a higher consumption of polyunsaturated fats and fiber and a lower intake of saturated fats and the total amount of fat as a possible explanation for the effects of diets without meat. However, they do not rule out that the effects of weight loss associated with these diets could also explain the results. They also remember that a very important part of the way in which lipids accumulate in the arteries depends, more than on diet, on a genetic issue. For this reason, many people, despite following the lifestyle recommendations of health agencies, need statins to maintain cholesterol levels within the ranges considered healthy. In the study, the authors note that “combining statins with a plant-based diet will likely have a synergistic effect” and that a vegetarian diet may reduce the use of these drugs and their side effects.
Pablo Alonso Coello, a researcher at the Ibero-American Cochrane Center (IIB Sant Pau), in Barcelona, says that “this review more or less confirms what I know [sobre estas dietas], which improve the lipid profile”, but questions the leap that the authors take when talking about effects on health. “There are no data on cardiovascular outcomes,” he warns. “There are no clinical trials that report on relevant cardiovascular outcomes such as heart attacks, cardiovascular mortality or stroke, there are only observational studies.” Alonso cites another analysis of 40 studies with more than 35,000 participants recently published in the journal bmj in which it was observed that the Mediterranean diet, which is not exclusively vegetarian, and the low-fat diet, are those with the most solid evidence regarding the reduction of cardiovascular problems. “In the same analysis, two diets considered vegetarian did not fare as well,” adds the researcher, who states that strict vegetarian or vegan diets can be problematic for populations at risk, such as pregnant women or children, because they require good planning and supplements. which entail a cost.
In statements collected by the Science Media Center, Tom Sanders, Emeritus Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London, recalls that “large trials with cholesterol-lowering medication show that a 1 millimole reduction in LDL cholesterol [el conocido como colesterol malo] is associated with a 10% reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality and a 20% reduction in cardiovascular disease episodes.” For this specialist, with the results of the review, it would be expected that, compared to omnivorous diets, plant-based diets would reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease by 3% and the impact of these ailments by 6%. “These results are consistent with observational studies that show that vegetarians/vegans have a lower incidence of ischemic heart disease, but not stroke,” he concludes.
Another important aspect of the interpretation of the results is the type of vegetarian diet that is followed. Fruits and vegetables and whole grains can be beneficial, but that is not the case with those that include refined flours, such as those in some types of bread or pasta, or have a lot of fat and salt, as in the case of some ultra-processed vegetarian foods. In these cases, as in all types of ultra-processed foods, frequent consumption is harmful to health.
The results published by the European Heart Journal point to a possible heart health benefit of healthy vegetarian and vegan diets that has been previously observed. In a guide from the American Heart Association, these types of diets ranked fourth in heart-healthy rankings behind the DASH diet (low in salt and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein, designed to control tension), the Mediterranean, the pescetarian, in which the protein only comes from fish and shellfish, and the vegetarian (including the one that admits eggs, dairy products or both). All of these healthy diets have in common an abundance of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, even though they are not strictly vegetarian.
In addition to pointing out the potential of plant-based diets to reduce the risk of some cardiovascular diseases, the study authors, in their conclusions, point to the environmental benefit of a population shift to a diet of this type.
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Source: EL PAIS