MAY 09, 2021 11:36 AM PDT

Vegetarian diet shows low levels of disease-related biomarkers

Researchers from the University of Glasgow have conducted a study on biomarkers in order to glean more information on the metabolic benefits of being vegetarian. The results from the study, presented this week at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO), show that vegetarians appear to have a healthier biomarker profile than meat-eaters, regardless of age or weight. 

Biomarkers are measurable indicators that can be used to detect the presence or risk of certain diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related diseases. The study looked at 19 different biomarkers found in the blood and urine of 177,723 healthy participants (ranging from 37-73 years of age) in the UK Biobank study. The biomarkers the team investigated are known to be associated with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, liver, bone and joint health, and kidney function.

The participants of the study were separated into categories based on their diets: 4,111 participants reported they follow a vegetarian while 166,516 of the participants were meat-eaters. The researchers found that independent of age, sex, education, ethnicity, obesity, smoking, and alcohol intake, vegetarians had significantly lower levels of 13 biomarkers compared to the levels of meat-eaters. According to Science Daily, vegetarian participants showed lower levels in total cholesterol; low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (a.k.a bad cholesterol); apolipoprotein A (linked to cardiovascular disease), apolipoprotein B (linked to cardiovascular disease); gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) and alanine aminotransferase (AST) -- liver function markers indicating inflammation or damage to cells; insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1; a hormone that encourages the growth and proliferation of cancer cells); urate; total protein; and creatinine (a marker of worsening kidney function).

Yet, the analysis wasn’t all one-sided for the pro-vegetarian diet. The researchers showed that vegetarians also demonstrated lower levels of high-density lipoprotein 'good' (HDL) cholesterol, vitamin D and calcium (linked to bone and joint health) and had a significantly higher level of fats (triglycerides) in the blood and cystatin-C (suggesting a poorer kidney condition).

"Our findings offer real food for thought," comments the punny lead researcher Dr. Carlos Celis-Morales from the University of Glasgow, UK. "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, fiber, 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."

Sources:  European Association for the Study of Obesity, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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