Vegetarians have a healthier biomarker profile than those who eat meat, a new study finds.
Biomarkers, or biological markers, are medical measures predicting whether a person is healthy or at risk of disease.
Biological markers help early diagnoses and treatment of conditions associated with ageing, cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other chronic illnesses.
A research team studied 177,723 UK adults using biomarkers to find out the impact of diet on health.
Subjects in this study were classified as meat-eaters or vegetarians who didn’t eat fish, red meat, and poultry.
Participants’ blood and urine samples were checked for 19 clinical biomarkers related to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, bone and joint health.
The results showed that levels of 13 biomarkers were notably lower in vegetarians than meat-eaters even when factors such as obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, ethnicity, age, and sex were considered.
The biomarkers were:
- Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1 linked to increased risk of developing cancer),
- apolipoprotein A and B (large proteins associated with cardiovascular disease),
- total cholesterol,
- LDL (bad) cholesterol,
- the liver and kidney function markers such as alanine aminotransferase (AST) and gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), creatinine, and urate.
The results were not all good for vegetarians, who had:
- lower HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol),
- lower levels of calcium and vitamin D (increased risk of joint, bone, and muscle pain),
- higher concentration of triglycerides (fat),
- and elevated levels of cystatin C (linked to kidney dysfunction).
Dr Carlos Celis-Morales, the study’s lead author, said:
“Our findings offer real food for thought.
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, fibre, 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.”
The study was presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO), May 2021.