Vegan diet boosts heart health, Stanford study finds

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Researchers from Stanford Medicine have discovered that a vegan diet can significantly improve cardiovascular health in just eight weeks.

This pioneering study, set to be published in JAMA Network Open, used a unique approach by studying 22 pairs of identical twins, allowing for control over genetic and environmental factors.

Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., the Rehnborg Farquhar Professor and a professor of medicine at Stanford, led the research team.

The study was conducted from May to July 2022 with 44 participants, all healthy identical twins without cardiovascular disease, selected from the Stanford Twin Registry.

Each twin pair was assigned either a vegan or an omnivore diet, both of which were healthy and included vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains.

The vegan diet was completely plant-based, excluding meat, eggs, milk, and other animal products. The omnivore diet included animal-sourced foods like chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, and dairy.

During the first month of the study, participants received 21 meals per week from a meal service. For the remaining four weeks, they prepared their own meals, guided by a registered dietitian.

The success rate was high, with 43 participants completing the study. This high adherence rate suggests that learning to prepare a healthy diet is feasible within a month.

The results were clear: participants on the vegan diet had significantly lower levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), insulin, and body weight compared to those on the omnivore diet.

These factors are closely associated with better cardiovascular health. For instance, the average baseline LDL-C level for vegans was 110.7 mg/dL, dropping to 95.5 mg/dL by the end of the study, while omnivores started at 118.5 mg/dL and decreased to 116.1 mg/dL. Optimal healthy LDL-C levels are below 100 mg/dL.

The study also found that vegans experienced about a 20% drop in fasting insulin and lost an average of 4.2 more pounds than the omnivores.

These findings suggest that a vegan diet could be beneficial for long-term health and longevity, particularly in improving heart health.

Gardner noted the importance of reducing saturated fats, increasing dietary fiber, and losing weight for cardiovascular health, all of which were achieved by the vegan participants.

While acknowledging that not everyone will adopt a vegan lifestyle, Gardner emphasized the health benefits of incorporating more plant-based foods into the diet.

He suggests exploring vegan multicultural foods like Indian masala, Asian stir-fry, and African lentil-based dishes as enjoyable ways to start transitioning to a more plant-based diet.

This study highlights the potential of a vegan diet to significantly improve cardiovascular health in a relatively short period, offering a promising path for those looking to enhance their heart health and overall well-being.

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The research findings can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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