Study Finds Vegetarian and Vegan Diets May Increase Stroke Risk: What to Know

  • A new study looks at the benefits and drawbacks of avoiding meat and other animal products.
  • Researchers found that people who avoided meat may be more at risk for having a stroke.
  • However, people who eat meat are more likely to develop heart disease.

It’s commonly accepted that a plant-based diet will reduce the risk of heart disease — but recent research finds that it may put you at risk for another serious health issue: stroke.

Published in the UK-based BMJTrusted Source, a new study looked at meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over an 18-year follow-up period.

“Vegetarian and vegan diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, partly due to the perceived health benefits, but also concerns about the environment and animal welfare,” lead researcher, Tammy Tong, PhD, told Healthline.

According to the findings, fish eaters and vegetarians had 13 percent and 22 percent lower rates of heart disease, respectively, compared to meat eaters. But the researchers also discovered something very surprising.

Vegetarians experienced a roughly 20 percent higher stroke risk than meat eaters, and it was mostly due to a higher rate of one particular type called hemorrhagic stroke.

Vegetarians and increased stroke risk

“Hemorrhagic stroke is a type of stroke caused because of a rupture of a weakened blood vessel causing spillage of blood into the brain. Most common causes include uncontrolled high blood pressure, rupture of a brain aneurysm, or rupture of an abnormal blood vessel in the brain,” said Dr. Ishwara Sankara, neurointensivist and Texas Health Fort Worth medical staff with Neurocritical Care Associates of Fort Worth, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice.

Sankara explained that these types of strokes can often cause more damage and be more deadly than ischemic strokes caused by blood clots.

This study was based on the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Oxford) Study and included information on 48,188 people in their 40s with no history of coronary heart disease or stroke.

They were divided into meat eaters, pescatarians (fish eaters), and vegetarians and vegans.

According to an accompanying editorial published along with this study, it was “the ideal study design for examining long-term effects of dietary patterns on health. The authors paid particular attention to adjusting for sociodemographic and lifestyle confounders and to applying rigorous statistical methods.”