Watch CBS News

Vegetarian diet may reduce risk of early death

Vegetarians rejoice: Cutting meat out of your diet may have lowered your risk of an untimely death.

A new study of more than 70,000 people showed that vegetarian diets were linked to lower death rates when compared to meat-eaters.

U.S. News ranks top diets for 2013: Which is tops?
U.S. News ranks top diets for 2013: Which is tops?

The research was published on June 3 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

"I think this adds to the evidence showing the possible beneficial effect of vegetarian diets in the prevention of chronic diseases and the improvement of longevity," lead author Dr. Michael Orlich, program director of the preventative medicine residency at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, Calif., said to Reuters.

Vegetarian diets have previously been connected to lower risk for chronic diseases including hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and ischemic heart disease, the authors noted.

A July 2012 Gallup poll revealed that 5 percent of Americans consider themselves to be vegetarian.

The researchers looked at 73,308 Seventh-day Adventists from Canada and the U.S. from 2002 to 2007 and asked them about their dietary habits.

The study pool was divided into five sections: nonvegetarian (meat-eaters), semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian (includes fish and seafood), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (includes dairy and egg products) and vegan (excludes all animal products). Eight percent of participants were vegans, 29 percent were lacto-ovo-vegetarians and 15 percent occasionally ate meat, including fish.

The subjects were followed for about six years, and 2,570 people died during that time. Seven out of every 1,000 non-vegetarians died each year compared to five or six vegetarians per 1,000 participants. That amounted to a 12 percent lower chance of dying for vegetarians during the study period.

The results were more pronounced in male subjects than in women. Vegetarian men had lower reductions in heart disease mortality and death from ischemic heart disease -- when blood flow is reduced to the heart -- compared to non-vegetarian men. Women however did not have any significant risk reductions in these categories.

However, it may not be the vegetables themselves that are fueling longevity. Vegetarians tended to be older, more highly educated, less likely to drink alcohol or smoke tobacco, exercised more and were thinner as well.

Orlich also pointed out that a British study did show that vegetarians were as likely to die during their study period as non-vegetarians, so swearing off meat may not be as beneficial as his new study suggests.

Nancy Copperman, a dietician at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. , told HealthDay that the increased fiber in their diets may be boosting vegetarians' health.

"It's not just fruit and vegetables, but all types of fiber [including whole grains] that seems to really reduce health risks," she said. "The new study pushes the literature that we are building about the impact that whole grains and fruits and vegetables can have on your health."

Dr. Robert B. Baron, vice chief of the division of general internal medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said most vegetarians chose the diet for other reasons besides health benefits, like ethical or religious reasons, and doctors should consider those aspects as well.

"First and foremost, dietary advice needs to be given to patients based on their own dietary history and preferences, their motivation to change their diet, and their clinical circumstances," Baron wrote in an accompanying editorial.

"Although nutrition authorities may disagree about the optimal balance of macronutrients in an ideal diet, and the amount of meat and other specific foods that should be ingested, virtually all agree that diets should limit added sugars and sugary drinks, refined grains, and large amounts of saturated and trans fats," he added.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.