A study published on May 24, 2023 European Heart Journal found that “plant-based diets can play a significant role in reducing blocked arteries, thereby lowering the risk heart and blood vessel diseases, such as strokes and heart attacks.”
The findings may not be unique in some ways. Most of us probably suspected this would be the case. The researchers of this study looked at 30 randomized control studies conducted between 1982 through 2022 involving 2,372 participants and is the first evidence review comparing omnivorous and vegetarian diets. This type of study is called a meta-analysis. A meta-analysis is a research method that combines the results of several related studies to produce better results.
What makes the study unique is it is the first such study to consider apolipoprotein B levels and the impact of age, body mass, and continent. For those of you not familiar with apolipoprotein B, it is a protein that carries fat and cholesterol and is a good indicator of the total amount of bad fats and cholesterol in the body.
In the 30 studies analyzed, participants were randomly assigned to follow either a vegan or plant-based diet or continue with omnivorous diet that included meats and dairy. The length of time of the studies analyzed ranged from 10 days to five year with an average being 29 weeks.
Not all plant-based diets are equal. The plant-based diet study in this meta-analysis was one that included fruits, vegetables and whole grains as opposed to plant-based diets that include refined carbohydrates and processed foods high in fat, sugar, and salt.
Only 1 in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables.
Impact of Plant-Based Diet on Fats and Cholesterol
The results of being on a plant-based diet showed:
- a 14% reduction in apolipoprotein B resulting in a 7% reduction in heart disease if plant-based diet maintained for 5 years.
- a 7% reduction in total cholesterol.
- a 10% reduction in the LDL or “bad” cholesterol (though not all LDL is bad).
In addition, the results were similar across continents, ages, body mass index, and among individuals in different states of health. The impact of a plant-based was limited, however, in those individuals with a genetic tendency to produce too much cholesterol.
How do the results compare to that of taking a cholesterol lowering agent like the statin drugs? Statin treatment will lead to greater reductions in apolipoprotein B, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. The 7% reduction in total cholesterol from the plant-based diet is about 1/3 of what is seen with statin treatment. But, statins treatment comes with a lot of side effects some of which can be very debilitating.
Heart disease remains the number one killer in the world with more than 18 million people dying from it each year. According to the CDC, 695,000 Americans died from heart disease in 2021 accounting for one in five deaths..
To minimize your risk of being one of those 18 million people, you may want to consider a plant-based diet especially if you have cardiovascular risk factor or established heart disease.
Cholesterol is not the only risk factor, however. To learn more about reducing other cardiac risk factors read our article Reducing Cardiac Risk Factors.