Cholesterol

Cholesterol levels are a risk factor for coronary heart disease, still one of the biggest killers in the west. Studies show that levels are lower in vegans than in the standard population.

An array of kiwi fruits, one of them shaped like a heart. High cholesterol is a global health issue.
Image Credit: Unsplash

“Evidence strongly indicates that high cholesterol can increase the risk of narrowing of the arteries atherosclerosis, heart attacks and stroke.” – NHS UK

In October 2015 the Journal of the American Heart Association published a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials on the effects of vegetarian diets on cholesterol levels. In the study the commonest diet was vegan. The study concluded that:

This systematic review and metaanalysis provides evidence that vegetarian diets effectively lower blood concentrations of total cholesterol, lowdensity lipoprotein cholesterol, highdensity lipoprotein cholesterol, and non–highdensity lipoprotein cholesterol. Such diets could be a useful nonpharmaceutical means of managing dyslipidemia, especially hypercholesterolemia’.

Hypercholestrolemia is another word for high cholesterol.

Another study, in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition February 2014, was a cross-sectional analysis of 424 meat-eaters, 425 fish-eaters, 423 vegetarians and 422 vegans. It showed that cholesterol levels in vegans were the lowest of the four groups. Although this difference could be explained by the fact that vegans were, on average, the least overweight, the study concluded that the biggest difference was due to diet:

“In this study, which included a large number of vegans, serum total cholesterol and apolipoprotein B concentrations were lower in vegans compared with meat-eaters, fish-eaters and vegetarians. A small proportion of the observed differences in serum lipid concentrations was explained by differences in BMI, but a large proportion is most likely due to diet.” 

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2014 Feb

Similarly, a meta-analysis that examined 30 observational studies and 19 clinical trials – published in 2017 in Nutrition Reviews – found that plant-based diets were associated with decreased total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. 

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