Though there’s been a surge in the number of vegans in recent years, with a 300% increase in the US and about half a million people in the UK adopting the diet, a new review has raised questions about the heart health benefits of veganism.
The rising popularity of veganism has often been attributed to perceived health benefits, with many people believing that a vegan diet can not only prevent, but even reverse heart disease.
However, this latest review suggests there is currently scant evidence to back this claim.
Pros and Cons of a Vegan Diet
It’s clear that vegan diets have benefits, particularly due to high intakes of whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, leading to higher fiber consumption than their omnivorous counterparts.
Higher fiber intake has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
Moreover, vegans tend to consume more phytonutrients, natural chemicals found in plants, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Additionally, veganism is associated with a lower weight, reduced blood pressure, and lower levels of bad cholesterol—all factors that can positively influence heart health.
However, a vegan diet can also lack crucial nutrients unless carefully planned. For example, certain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids found readily in seafood may be insufficient in vegan diets.
Vitamins and minerals like selenium, iodine, and vitamin B12, important for heart health, are also often lacking in vegan diets and could lead to issues such as thyroid problems, muscle disorders, and anemia.
The Research Findings
Researchers sifted through current evidence to evaluate if a vegan diet could truly lower the risk of heart disease or stroke.
Their findings were based on data from only three studies, encompassing over 73,000 people and 7,000 vegans, as vegans represent a small portion of any population.
The studies showed no protective effects of a vegan diet against heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes when compared to an omnivorous diet.
There was even a suggestion that vegans might be more prone to ischaemic strokes caused by a blood clot in the brain, although it remains uncertain whether the diet was directly responsible.
The review also examined whether a vegan diet could benefit those with existing heart disease. Out of the three studies, only one suggested potential benefits and the possibility of reversing heart disease.
This particular study found that those who adhered to a vegan diet for over three years were six times less likely to experience another severe heart problem or stroke compared to those who didn’t stick with the diet.
However, this was a relatively small sample, and larger studies are needed to confirm these results.
The other two studies did not show any benefit or reversal of heart disease in people who adopted a vegan diet, possibly due to the short duration (two to six months) of their vegan diets.
In summary, while veganism can offer numerous health benefits, such as healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels, and may reduce the risk of certain conditions like cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes, its effect on heart disease—the leading cause of death worldwide—requires further investigation.
The limited evidence currently available does not fully support the claim that a vegan diet is unequivocally beneficial for heart health.
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