Vegetarians Score Better Health Biomarkers Than Meat-Eaters, New Study Finds

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Researchers have found that people who are vegetarian have a healthier biomarker profile compared to meat-eating folk. The British study’s findings, presented at the recent virtual European Congress on Obesity (ECO), is consistent despite age and weight factors and crucially, is unaffected by smoking and alcohol consumption. 

University of Glasgow researchers have found a consistent link between meatless diets and people scoring better on many health biomarkers connected to the likelihood of developing a range of illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular and age-related diseases, as well as chronic conditions.

In their cross-sectional examination of more than 177,000 healthy adults from the U.K. Biobank study, the researchers looked at 19 blood and urine biomarkers related to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, liver, bone and joint health, and kidney function. The participants were categorised as either vegetarian or meat-eaters and had not reported any major dietary changes over the past five years. 

After factoring in age, gender, education, ethnicity, obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption, the study found that vegetarians had significantly lower levels for 13 of the 19 biomarkers – especially total cholesterol levels, heart-disease-related apolipoprotein B, and several liver function markers that indicate inflammation or damage to cells. 

Vegetarians appear to have lower levels of disease biomarkers that can lead to cell damage and chronic disease.

Dr. Carlos Celis-Morales, Lead Researcher, University of Glasgow

They also showed lower levels for the kidney-functioning-related creatinine, and the insulin-like growth factor IGF-1, which is a hormone encouraging cancer cell proliferation. 

However, vegetarians scored lower on some biomarkers that are beneficial, including “good” cholesterol, vitamin D and calcium, suggesting the need to supplement their diets. 

Commenting on the findings, Dr. Carlos Celis-Morales, who led the research, said: “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.”

While noting that a direct cause and effect cannot be established given the observational nature of the study, the findings do present what Dr. Celis-Morales described as “real food for thought” about the health benefits of plant-based diets. 

People who follow a vegetarian diet tend to consume more vegetables, fruits, and nuts which contain more nutrients, fibre, and other potentially beneficial compounds.

Dr. Carlos Celis-Morales, Lead Researcher, University of Glasgow

It only adds to the growing body of research highlighting the numerous positive health impacts associated with meat-free habits. 

Scientists have previously found that high intake of protein from plants such as legumes, whole grains and nuts is linked to lower risk of developing a number of illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. 

Another study conducted by the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. found similar results, concluding an “inverse association” between high intake of plant-based foods and heart disease mortality rates. The strongest link was found in the replacement of red meat and eggs with plant-based whole food sources of protein. 


Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.


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