Among more than 26,000 black Seventh-day Adventists, those who are vegetarians are at lower risk for heart disease, compared with their meat-eating counterparts, according to results of a new Loma Linda University Health study.
The study, available online now in the journal Public Health Nutrition, compared the cardiovascular risk factors between black vegetarians and non-vegetarians who are part of the ongoing Loma Linda University Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2).
AHS-2, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a long-running study of members throughout North America of the Seventh-day Adventist Church focusing on nutrition, lifestyle, and health outcomes. The Seventh-day Adventists are a unique study subject because they have a wide variety of dietary habits, but in general have a very low percentage of alcohol consumption or cigarette smoking, non-dietary factors that may otherwise impact the study.
The new results show a hierarchy of protection received by black participants in the study based on their eating habits: Vegans (those who completely abstain from meat and meat products) and lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who consume eggs and dairy) were the least at risk for cardiovascular disease; followed by semi-vegetarians (those who infrequently eat meat); pesco-vegetarians (those who eat fish); and lastly, non-vegetarians.
The study results show that compared with their non-vegetarian counterparts, black vegetarian Adventists were at less risk for hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure, total cholesterol, and high blood-LDL cholesterol. The study was a cross-sectional analysis of the data, and does not conclusively establish cause. In the future, the study involving black subjects also plans to look directly at heart disease experience rather than risk factors for heart disease.
Patti Herring, PhD, MA, RN, associate professor at Loma Linda University School of Public Health and one of the study’s co-investigators, said “some findings for black Adventists are promising and we are anxious to compare black Adventist health with the general population of blacks. In so doing, we suspect that black Adventists’ health will prove better in many regards, than those in the general population, particularly for the vegetarians.”
“There’s a growing body of evidence that vegetarian diets lower the risk for cardiovascular diseases and other diseases,” she said, noting that AHS-2 is one of the few that has such a large number of black participants, which is important since they generally have some of the worst health outcomes among minority populations.