Vegetarians have healthier biomarkers than meat eaters

Vegetarians have a healthier biomarker profile than meat eaters, and this applies to adults of all ages and weights. This new study involving more than 166,000 British adults was presented this week at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO).

Biomarkers can have beneficial and detrimental effects on health, by promoting or preventing cancer, cardiovascular and age-related diseases, as well as other chronic diseases, and have been widely used to assess the effect health diets. However, the evidence for the metabolic benefits associated with being a vegetarian is unclear.

To understand whether diet choice can make a difference in blood and urine levels of disease markers, researchers at the University of Glasgow carried out a cross-sectional study analyzing data from 177,723 healthy participants. health (aged 37-73) from the UK Biobank study, who reported no major changes in their diet over the past five years.

Participants were classified as vegetarians (did not eat red meat, poultry or fish: 4,111 participants) or meat eaters (166,516 participants) based on their reported diet. The researchers looked at the association with 19 blood and urine biomarkers linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver, bone and joint health, and kidney function.

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Even after taking into account potentially influential factors such as age, gender, level of education, ethnicity, obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption, the analysis showed that, compared to meat eaters, vegetarians had significantly lower levels of 13 biomarkers, including the following:

– 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): markers of liver function indicating inflammation or cell damage
– insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1 a hormone that promotes the growth and proliferation of cancer cells)
– urate
– total proteins
– creatinine (marker of the deterioration of kidney function).

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However, vegetarians also had lower levels of beneficial biomarkers, including “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, vitamin D, and calcium (linked to bone and joint health). In addition, they had significantly higher levels of blood fats (triglycerides) and cystatin-C (suggesting poorer kidney status).

Vegetarian diet provides better markers of health

These findings are really food for thought, says Dr Carlos Celis-Morales from the University of Glasgow, UK, who led the research. “In addition to not eating red meat and processed meat, which have been linked to heart disease and some cancers, people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to eat more vegetables, fruits and nuts, which contain more nutrients, fiber 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. »

The authors point out that although their study is large, it is an observational study, so no conclusions can be drawn as to direct cause and effect. They also note several limitations, including the fact that they only tested the biomarker samples once for each participant, and that it is possible that the biomarkers fluctuate based on factors unrelated to diet. such as existing illnesses and unmeasured lifestyle factors. They also note that they relied on participants to report their food intake using food frequency questionnaires, which is not always reliable.


Poster presentation EP3-33 at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO).


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