In developed countries, heart disease is the single largest cause of death, responsible for 65,000 deaths each year in the U.K. In the United States, that number is a shocking 600,000.
The University of Oxford recently concluded the largest study ever undertaken in the U.K. comparing rates of heart disease between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, involving 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland, of whom 34 percent were vegetarian.
Participants in the study were recruited throughout the 1990s and tracked until 2009, during which time researchers identified 1,235 cases of heart disease. This comprised 169 deaths and 1,066 hospital diagnoses, identified through hospital records and death certificates. Heart disease cases were validated using data from the Myocardial Ischaemia National Audit Project.
The results demonstrated that the risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease is 32 percent lower in vegetarians than in people who eat meat and fish. The vegetarians in the study had lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians, which is thought to be the main reason behind their reduced risk of heart disease.
Tim Key, co-author of the study and deputy director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, said: “The results clearly show that the risk of heart disease in vegetarians is about a third lower than in comparable non-vegetarians.”