Vegetarians appear to have lower blood pressure than meat-eaters, according to recent research.

Researchers concluded that eating a vegetarian diet could naturally lower blood pressure, meaning theoretically there could be less reliance on medications. A vegetarian diet excludes meat but includes eggs, dairy and in some cases fish with a special emphasis put on plant-based foods such as vegetables, legumes, fruits and grains.

Author of the recent report, Yoko Yokayama, states that if simply changing the diet could naturally lower blood pressure, it would bring hope to many found to be unresponsive to high blood pressure medications. Ms. Yokoyama is based at the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Osaka, Japan, where the review took place. She stated that the evidence to support a vegetarian diet as an effective way to combat hypertension was quite conclusive.

The review was published in the JAMA Internal Medicine. It combined the results of 39 previous studies, including seven clinically controlled trials and 32 observational studies. The observational studies look at what happens to people who choose their own diets and follow them over many years. The controlled trials involve subjects being given a different diet to any they have tried before, to show the effects on them of a new form of eating. Altogether around 22,000 people were studied.
Researchers discovered that people who had already by choice been eating a vegetarian diet had blood pressure on average around 7mm Hg lower than that of meat eaters, and a diastolic pressure of around 5mm Hg lower. Those taking part in the clinical trials who were newly given a vegetarian diet to follow were also found to have lower blood pressure of around 5mm Hg and 2mm Hg diastolic than subjects in control groups who were not following vegetarian diets.

Why is a vegetarian diet an effective way to naturally lower blood pressure?

As well as the effect a vegetarian diet has on blood pressure, good side effects of a plant-based diet include weight loss, better controlled blood sugar, and lower cholesterol. Since a plant-based diet is lower in fat and higher in fiber, people tend to lose weight – something which has a positive effect on blood pressure. Plants are also low in sodium and are a good source of potassium, a mineral known to help lower blood pressure.

Since fruit and vegetables are low in saturated fat they also have the knock on effect of lowering cholesterol and enabling the blood to flow more easily. Ms. Yokayama believes that doctors should be prescribing a plant-based diet as a matter of course to patients diagnosed with hypertension. Also by introducing children to vegetarianism at a young age many health problems down the line could be avoided.

Alice Lichtenstein, director of Cardiovascular Nutrition at Tufts University, Boston, said the review’s results were encouraging, but pointed out that the amount of sodium imbibed and lifestyles of the participants had not been taken into account. People who are vegetarian also tend to eat fewer processed foods and adhere to healthier lifestyles in general so this could play a part too.

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