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Surprising Sex Specific Benefit from a Vegetarian Diet

Tim Boyer's picture
Benefits of vegetarian diet

One of the most compelling arguments for adopting a vegetarian diet is that it is the healthiest dietary lifestyle possible. As such―but not proven―a vegetarian diet is touted to extend life years beyond what a meat and potatoes based diet can support. Vegetarian diets have been associated with a reduced risk of hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and ischemic heart disease.

While there is some evidence that suggests that vegetarian dietary patterns may be associated with reduced mortality, the relationship is not as well established as many believe. Furthermore, there may be differences between men and women with regards to who benefits the most from a vegetarian diet.

In a recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers investigated the association between a vegetarian diet lifestyle and that of mortality using data gleaned from 73,308 Seventh-day Adventist men and women who participated in the study by answering a quantitative food frequency questionnaire.

Based on the questionnaire, the study participants were categorized under 5 dietary patterns: non-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian (includes seafood), lacto-ovo–vegetarian (includes dairy and egg products), and vegan (excludes all animal products).

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Using the aforementioned data and information from the National Death Index―a central computerized index of death record information to help medical investigators with their mortality ascertainment studies―over nearly a 6-year follow-up period, there were 2,570 deaths among 73,308 study participants. Statistical analysis was then used to ascertain any relationship differences between the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dietary categories with that of mortality.

What the data revealed was that the combined vegetarian data versus the non-vegetarian data suggested an overall 12% mortality benefit for vegetarians over non-vegetarians. Furthermore, according to a news release from The JAMA Network, the association between a vegetarian diet and decreased mortality appears to be better for men with significant reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality and ischemic heart disease death than it is for women where there were no significant reductions in these categories of mortality.

Another interesting finding was that within the categories of vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians had a lower mortality hazard ratio compared to vegans, lacto-ovo–vegetarians, and semi-vegetarians respectively. Semi-vegetarians did slightly better than non-vegetarians.

The news release quotes the authors of the study as concluding that:

"These results demonstrate an overall association of vegetarian dietary patterns with lower mortality compared with the non-vegetarian dietary pattern. They also demonstrate some associations with lower mortality of the pesco-vegetarian, vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets specifically compared with the non-vegetarian diet."

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Reference: “Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2” JAMA Internal Medicine Published Online First; Michael J. Orlich, MD; Pramil N Singh, DrPH; Joan Sabaté, MD, DrPH; Karen Jaceldo-Siegl, DrPH; Jing Fan, MS; Synnove Knutsen, MD, PhD; W. Lawrence Beeson, DrPH; Gary E. Fraser, MBchB, PhD.