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Vegetarians are much less likely to suffer from serious heart disease than their carnivorous counterparts, British researchers have found.

A University of Oxford study analysed 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland, recruited in the 1990s and tracked until 2009.

"The results clearly show that the risk of heart disease in vegetarians is about a third lower than in comparable non-vegetarians," co-author of the study and university professor Tim Key said.

After years of analysis, researchers concluded the risk of hospitalisation or death from heart disease is 32 per cent lower in vegetarians than people who eat meat and fish.

"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," lead author Francesca Crowe said.

The study took into account factors such as age, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, educational level and socioeconomic background, and recorded the blood pressure and cholesterol levels of participants.

Overwhelmingly, researchers found that vegetarians had lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body mass indices than non-vegetarians.

During the study researchers identified 1235 cases of heart disease, including 169 deaths and 1066 hospital diagnoses.