Vegetarian (and vegan) diet linked to higher stroke risk

Scientists still don't fully understand how abstaining from animal products affects the body.

Vegetarian (and vegan) diet linked to higher stroke risk
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  • A new study tracked the health of more than 48,000 people over 18 years.
  • The participants were divided into three groups – meat eaters, vegetarians (including vegans) and fish eaters.
  • The results showed that, compared to meat eaters, vegetarians had a 20% increased chance of stroke, but also a 22% decreased chance of heart disease.


Vegetarian and vegan diets have become increasingly popular in recent decades, promising to reduce the risk of conditions like obesity, ischaemic heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. Still, scientists still don't fully understand how abstaining from animal products affects the body. Now, new research sheds light on one potential risk of vegetarian and vegan diets: increased likelihood of stroke.

The study, published last week in the British Medical Journal, examined the risk factors associated with ischaemic heart disease and stroke, and it tracked the health of 48,188 men and women living in Oxford over 18 years. Each participant was grouped in one of three groups: vegetarian (including vegans), meat eater or fish eater. None of the participants had a history of ischaemic heart disease, stroke, or angina (or cardiovascular disease), and the researchers accounted for other risk factors including physical activity, education level, smoking habits and alcohol consumption.

The results showed that vegetarians were about 20 percent more likely to have had a stroke than meat eaters. However, vegetarians also had a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease, an effect the researchers suggested could be because vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol levels and incidence of diabetes.

What explains the higher risk of stroke among vegetarians? The study couldn't provide an exact biological explanation, but the researchers did reference several studies that show:

"...that individuals with a very low intake of animal products had an increased incidence and mortality from haemorrhagic and total stroke, and also a possibly higher risk of ischaemic stroke mortality, suggest that some factors associated with animal food consumption might be protective for stroke."

The researchers noted that vegetarians might suffer from a lack of several key nutrients.

"Vegetarians and vegans in the EPIC-Oxford cohort have lower circulating levels of several nutrients (eg, vitamin B12, vitamin D, essential amino acids, and long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids), and differences in some of these nutritional factors could contribute to the observed associations."

The results don't necessarily suggest you should change your diet. What's probably more important is to make sure that you're eating high-quality foods. For meat eaters, one easy way to improve your diet is to avoid processed foods, which a growing body of research shows can shorten lifespan and cause multiple diseases. Also, for both vegetarians and meat eaters, eating organic foods seems to be worth the slight increase in cost.

A 2018 study, for example, found that people who ate organic foods were 25 percent less likely to develop certain kinds of cancer than people who ate "conventional" diets. The New York Times reported:

"Those who ate the most organic fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and other foods had a particularly steep drop in the incidence of lymphomas, and a significant reduction in postmenopausal breast cancers."

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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

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