According to a study being presented at week’s European Congress on Obesity (ECO), held online this year, vegetarians have a healthier biomarker profile than non-vegetarian.
The study, done over 166,000 UK adults, has also revealed that this applies to adults of any age and weight. Even alcohol and smoking habit doesn’t change this. That means, a nonalcoholic, non–smoker meat-eater tends to have a poor disease marker than the vegetarian who also smokes and consumes alcohol.
Biomarkers can have bad and good health effects, promoting or preventing cancer, cardiovascular and age-related diseases, and other chronic conditions.
They are used to assess the effect of diets on health. However, evidence of the metabolic benefits associated with being vegetarian is unclear.
To understand whether dietary choice can make a difference to the levels of disease markers in blood and urine, researchers from the University of Glasgow did a cross-sectional study analysing data from 177,723 healthy participants (aged 37-73 years) in the UK Biobank study, who reported no major changes in diet over the last five years.
Participants were categorised as either vegetarian (do not eat red meat, poultry or fish; 4,111 participants) or meat-eaters (166,516 participants) according to their self-reported diet.
The researchers examined the association with 19 blood and urine biomarkers related to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, liver, bone and joint health, and kidney function.
Total cholesterol; low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol–the so-called ‘bad cholesterol; apolipoprotein A (linked to cardiovascular disease), apolipoprotein B (linked to cardiovascular disease); gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) and alanine aminotransferase (AST)–liver function markers indicating inflammation or damage to cells; insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1; a hormone that encourages the growth and proliferation of cancer cells); urate; total protein; and creatinine (a marker of worsening kidney function).
However, vegetarians also had lower levels of beneficial biomarkers including high-density lipoprotein ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol, and vitamin D and calcium (linked to bone and joint health). In addition, they had a significantly higher level of fats (triglycerides) in the blood and cystatin-C (suggesting a poorer kidney condition).
“Our findings offer real food for thought”, says Dr Carlos Celis-Morales from the University of Glasgow, UK, who led the research.
“As well as not eating red and processed meat which have been linked to heart diseases and some cancers, people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to consume more vegetables, fruits, and nuts which contain more nutrients, fibre, and other potentially beneficial compounds. These nutritional differences may help explain why vegetarians appear to have lower levels of disease biomarkers that can lead to cell damage and chronic disease.”