Becoming a vegetarian can reduce the risk of heart disease by a third, a major new study has found
Becoming a vegetarian can reduce the risk of heart disease by a third, a major new study has found.
Heart disease is the UK's biggest killer, claiming the lives of around one in five men and one in seven women, according to NHS figures.
Researchers at Oxford University who studied 45,000 volunteers over 20 years found that those who cut meat and fish out of their diet were 32 per cent less likely to end up in hospital or dead because of heart disease.
Scientists said the study, the largest of its kind, showed that following a low cholesterol meat free diet could save thousands of lives.
Lead author Dr Francesca Crowe said: 'Most of the difference in risk is probably caused by effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, and shows the important role of diet in the prevention of heart disease.'
Researchers looked at the health of almost 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford study.
A third of participants were vegetarian which allowed researchers to compare their rates of heart disease with meat eaters.
Participants were recruited to the study throughout the 1990s, and were quizzed over their health, diet, exercise regime, what they ate and whether or not they smoked.
Almost 20,000 volunteers also had their blood pressures recorded, and gave blood samples for cholesterol testing.
Their health was then tracked until 2009, during which time 1,235 of them had contracted heart disease.
People who cut meat and fish out of their diet were 32 per cent less likely to end up in hospital or dead because of heart disease
Out of this number, 169 people died and 1,066 were admitted to hospital and diagnosed with the illness.
After accounting for other risk factors including age, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, educational level and socioeconomic background, researchers discovered that those who axed meat from their diet were 32 per cent less likely to develop the potentially fatal disease.
Professor Tim Key, co-author of the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, said: 'The results clearly show that the risk of heart disease in vegetarians is about a third lower than in comparable non-vegetarians.'
Vegetarians had lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels than meat eaters, which is thought to be the main reason behind their reduced risk of heart disease.
They also had lower body mass indices (BMI) and fewer cases of diabetes as a result of their diets, although these were not found to significantly affect the results.
The study highlights the crucial role diet plays in preventing heart disease, researchers said.
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