by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
High blood pressure affects more than a third of Americans and increases the risk for stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure. Researchers at Loma Linda University recently looked at 2000 white Seventh-day Adventists. Subjects were classified as vegan (if they ate meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy less than once a month), lacto-ovo vegetarian (ate meat, poultry, and fish less than once a month), partial vegetarian (ate meat and poultry less than once a month but ate fish monthly or ate meat, poultry, or fish at least once once a month but not weekly), and nonvegetarians. “Meat” includes both red meat and poultry. Although these are not the definitions that are used by vegan and vegetarian organizations, this was how the researchers classified their subjects since the categories reflect the way the subjects ate most of the time. About 10% of those studied were categorized as vegan and more than one-third as lacto-ovo vegetarian.
The group identified as vegans had a lower average blood pressure than did nonvegetarians. In addition, vegans were less likely to take medicine for high blood pressure. Those categorized as vegans had a 60% lower risk of hypertension (elevated blood pressure) compared to nonvegetarians, while those categorized as lacto-ovo vegetarians had about a 40% lower risk and partial vegetarians had about a 10% lower risk. The results of this study may be partly due to the lower BMI of vegans and vegetarians since being overweight increases the risk of having high blood pressure. Higher intakes of potassium and fiber by vegans and vegetarians could be another explanation for the results. This study was published in the January 2012 issue of Public Health Nutrition.
In 2010, high blood pressure cost the United States $76.6 billion in health care services, medications, and missed days of work. We can only wonder what the impact of a national move towards a vegan diet on these costs would be.