Vegan diets best for good heart health, according to new study

A plant-based diet is said to work in the same way as statins  (David Davie / PA Archive)
A plant-based diet is said to work in the same way as statins (David Davie / PA Archive)

A vegan diet could drastically reduce the levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood, a new major study has revealed.

Those who follow the plant-based way of living may have a lower risk of heart disease, with the diet said to work in the same way as statins — by stopping arteries from getting blocked.

Statins are a commonly prescribed drug by doctors in the treatment of high cholesterol, stroke patients, and those at risk of heart attacks and heart disease.

Researchers in Denmark conducted the mega study — said to be the largest of its kind ever undertaken — looking at the food intake of more than 2,000 participants.

Research lead and study author Professor Ruth Frikke-Schmidt said their “really substantial” findings had revealed that consuming a plant-based and meat-free diet “corresponds to a third of the effect” of taking the cholesterol-lowering pills.

The study was published yesterday in the European Heart Journal, which is a peer-reviewed medical journal of cardiology, and was undertaken to look at the effect a vegan diet can have on the body and especially in regard to cardiovascular disease.

The Global Health Organisation says cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death globally, killing 18 million people each year.

Researchers looked at statistics from 30 random trials featuring a total of 2,372 participants, published between 1982 and 2022.

They looked at a range of different factors, from the levels of cholesterol, as well as proteins and fat levels in the blood.

Researchers discovered that, compared to those who consumed animal products, vegans and vegetarians had lower levels of total cholesterol, bad cholesterol, and apoB — a protein that helps transport cholesterol through the body.

Plant-based diets were found to reduce “bad” cholesterol by 10 per cent and total cholesterol by seven per cent. Levels of apoB — the main protein in LDL cholesterol — dropped by 14 per cent for those who were meat-free.

Study author Professor Ruth Frikke-Schmidt said: “We found that vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with a 14 per cent reduction in all artery-clogging lipoproteins as indicated by apoliprotein B.

“This corresponds to a third of the effect of taking cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins. If someone were to maintain a plant-based diet for five years this would result in a seven pe rcent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Professor Frikke-Schmidt also told BBC News: “That corresponds to a third of the effect of a cholesterol-lowering statin [pill] — so that’s really substantial.

“Statin treatment is superior to plant-based diets in reducing fats and cholesterol levels.

“However, one regimen does not exclude the other, and combining statins with plant-based diets is likely to have a synergistic effect, resulting in an even larger beneficial effect.

“If people start eating vegetarian or vegan diets from an early age, the potential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease caused by blocked arteries is substantial.

“Importantly, we found similar results across continents, ages, different ranges of body mass index, and among people in different states of health.”

The effect was seen for both vegetarian and vegan diets and in people ranging from a healthy weight to obese, regardless of their age and underlying health conditions.