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Oxford Vegetarian Studies Update

from EVU News, Issue 2 / 1996

Two recent papers arising from the Oxford Vegetarian Study, a prospective study of the health of 6,000 vegetarians and 5,000 meat-eating controls, provide further evidence of the health benefits of the vegetarian diet.

Rates of reported emergency appendicectomies (indicating acute appendicitis) were compared according to participants history of meat consumption in a paper published in the Journal of Epidemioloy and Cummunity Health.

Participants were grouped according to whether they had always eaten meat, never eaten meat or stopped eating meat. The percentage who reported an emergency appendiceptomy was higher among the lifelong meat eaters (10%) than either the lifelong non-meat eaters (7%) or the former meat eaters (8%); and the operations were performed at an earlier age in the first group (average age at operation 18.9, 26.0 and 19.6 years respectively). The overall age ajusted emergency appendicectomy rate ratio comparing participants who did not eat meat with those who did was 0.47, suggesting that vegetarians have a 50% lower risk of requiring appendicectomy than non-vegetarians.

The effects of dietary, lifestyle and physical factors on participants concentration of total and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in the blood was investigated in a paper published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. High total cholesterol concentration is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, whereas HDL cholestorol is thought to have a protective effect against heart disease. After adjusting for age there was a progressive decrease in total cholestorol concentration from meat eaters to vegans for both male and female participants, with vegetarians having intermediate values. In contrast, HDL cholesterol concentrations were similar in all diet groups for both men and women. When the effects of specific dietary and lifestyle factors were considered meat and cheese consumption were found to increase total cholesterol, whereas a high intake of dietary fibre was associated with a reduction in total cholesterol for both men and women.

In accordance with results from other studies, body mass index (a measure of obesity) and alcohol consumption were associated with a decrease and increase respectively in HDL cholesterol concentration in both men and women. The results provide further evidence of the cholesterol-lowering effect of a vegetarian diet with a high dietary fibre content and limited use of cheese.

Excluding meat from the diet might be expected to result in a 15-25% reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease, with a similar beneficial effect if cheese is also excluded.

Meanwhile, over 20,000 individuals, including more than 10,000 vegetarians and vegans, have been recruited into the UK section of the EPIC study, a massive study of diet and cancer involving nine European countries. Only a fraction of the available data has been computerised thus far, but that which has suggests that vegetarians and vegans are generally lighter and less likely to be obese than meat eaters. This is important because obesity is known to increase the risk of several diseases.

Paul Appleby, Oxford Vegetarians, 57 Sharland Close Grove, Wantage, Oxon OX 12 OAF, Tel. +44-1235 769425

(Copies of the papers referred to in this article may be obtained by sending a large s.a.e. to the author.)