Vegetarian and Vegan Diets Reduce Cholesterol
Having high blood cholesterol puts you at risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, people with high cholesterol have about twice the risk of those with lower levels. A new review of almost 50 nutrition-related studies have found that plant-based diets are the best for lowering total cholesterol levels.
So what exactly is cholesterol? It is a waxy, fat-like substance that is actual important to the body. It is used as a building block for cell membranes and for hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. However, when someone has more than they need, it can build up within the blood vessel walls and form plaques. These can block the flow of blood to the heart and brain, and could lead to heart attack or stroke.
The liver produces all the cholesterol we need – we do not need any more from our food. However, animal products contain dietary cholesterol. Plant foods do not contain any. Therefore, says Dr. Yoko Yokoyama from Keio University in Japan and Susan Levin from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine – a vegan diet should be prescribed more often by doctors to treat high cholesterol levels.
Dr. Yokoyama and his team examined data from 30 observational studies and 19 clinical trials that focused on the relationship between vegetarian diets and plasma lipids (fats). The studies looked at many versions of a vegetarian diet, including “semi-vegetarians” who only eat meat products a couple of times per month, vegetarians who may consume dairy and eggs but do not consume animal flesh, and vegans who are strictly plant-based in their diet choices.
All vegetarians – even those who may stray once in a while – reaped the benefits of lower cholesterol. Concentration of total cholesterol was lowered by 12.5 to 29.2 milligrams per deciliter. Triglycerides were also lower, but not as significantly, likely because a vegetarian diet is naturally higher in carbohydrates that influence triglyceride levels.
The strength of this review, says Levin, reinforces the importance of adopting a healthy plant-based diet for everyone, but especially those who are at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
"The immediate health benefits of a plant-based diet, like weight loss, lower blood pressure, and improved cholesterol, are well documented in controlled studies," says Levin. She also refers to previous research conducted by her team, that suggest vegetarian diets can regulate the metabolism and prevent the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
References include: Medical News Today and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine