The risk hospitalization from heart disease is 33 percent lower in vegetarians than people who eat animal products, according to a new from the University of Oxford.

vegetariansHeart disease is the number one killer in developed countries, and is accountable for 64,000 deaths every year in the UK alone. The new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, advises that a vegetarian diet could greatly decrease people’s risk of heart disease.

"The majority of the difference in risk is maybe caused by effects on blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, and demonstrates how important diet is in the prevention of heart disease", explains one of the lead authors of the study.

This study is the largest one ever done in the UK comparing rates of heart disease between vegetarians and meat eaters.

The study looked at a little over 40,000 volunteers from England and Scotland registered in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford study, of which 34 percent of them were vegetarians. Such a significant embodiment of vegetarians is uncommon in studies of this type, and granted researchers to make more accurate estimates of the comparative risks between the two groups.

The study was supported by Cancer research UK and the Medical Research Council and done by the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford.

A professor and co-author of the study said that “the risk of heart disease in vegetarians is about 33 percent lower than in comparable meat eaters.”

The Oxford researchers came with the figure of one third reduction after accounting for determinants such as age, smoking, alcoholism, the amount of physical activity, and educational background.

Volunteers were inducted to the study throughout the 90s, and finished up questionnaires about their health and daily habits when they joined. The questionnaire included questions on diet and exercise as well as other things that can have an impact on health such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Almost 21,000 of the volunteers had their blood pressure and cholesterol checked.

The volunteers were tracked for 20 years, during which times researchers found over 1,200 cases of heart disease. This consisted of 170 deaths and 1020 hospital diagnoses, identified through connection with hospital records and death certificates. Heart disease cases were confirmed using data from the Myocardial Ischaemia National Audit Project (MINAP).

The researchers discovered that vegetarians had much lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than those who were non-vegetarians, which is believed to be the main reason for lower risk of heart disease.

Vegetarians also had a lower body mass index (BMI) and less cases of diabetes because of their diets, even though these factors were not found to significantly affect the results. Even if these factors were removed, vegetarians still remain 28 percent less likely to develop heart disease.

The results in the study goes to show that diet is very important in the prevention of heart disease, and build on past work looking at the benefits of vegetarian diets, the researchers say.

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