There’s good news and really bad news about being a vegan or vegetarian

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People who stick to vegan or vegetarian diets are facing a double-edged sword healthwise, a recent study found. Vegetarians have a markedly lower risk of heart disease, but a strikingly higher risk –  20% – of stroke than people who eat meat.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, followed 48,000 people for up to 18 years. Those people were divided into three groups: meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians. The study analyzed data from the EPIC-Oxford study, a cohort in the UK with a large proportion of non-meat eaters, recruited across the country between 1993 and 2001.

What they found

  • The good news: compared with meat-eaters, both fish eaters, and vegetarians had 13% and 22% lower rates of ischaemic heart disease, respectively, which is consistent with previous findings.
  • The bad news: the study also revealed that vegetarians and vegans had a 20% higher risk of stroke than meat-eaters. Researchers posited that this could have been because of low levels of B12 due to their diets, but more studies would be needed to firm up that connection. Fish eaters had a 14% higher rate of stroke than meat-eaters.

Further research needed

However, the researchers wrote about the surprising results, further research is needed on the increased stroke risk, as they were unable to conclusively prove whether the health risk was a result of diet or some other part of participants’ lifestyles.

“Vegetarians and others should keep the reported stroke risk in perspective, however,” the researchers wrote in an article associated with the study.” They added that their report of an increased stroke risk should be explored further in order to replicate their results.