Do you live longer if you don't eat meat?


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Do you live longer if you don't eat meat?

After reading the blog posts by Anushi about Vegans, vs. Vegetarians vs. Carnivores, I was doing some reading and found an article that suggested that vegetarians live longer than people who eat meat.

 According to a recent study, researchers found that a vegetarian diet was associated with a reduced death rate. The study observed "all-cause and cause-specific mortality in a group of 73,308 men and women Seventh-day Adventists".  They used a questionnaire to categorize participants based on five groups: "nonvegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian (includes seafood), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (includes dairy and egg products) and vegan (excludes all animal products)." This association was more obvious in men than women, with women's results showing no specific reductions in mortality.

In the end, the study found that there was an association but not an established relationship between a vegetarian diet and lower mortality rates. It did note, however, that "vegetarian groups tended to be older, more highly educated and more likely to be married, to drink less alcohol, to smoke less, to exercise more and to be thinner."

Even though the study had a great sample size, the results only represented Seventh Day Adventists. Why did the study do this? Only surveying Seventh Day Adventists means you don't get the results for other religions that people practice, and so can only make conclusions about these Christian Protestants. Only surveying Seventh Day Adventists does help us to narrow one more variable to get closer to an answer about diet verses mortality rates.

Another problem, admitted in the study, is that the "analysis is limited by relatively early follow-up. If dietary patterns affect mortality, they may do so with moderate effect sizes, via complex pathways, and with long latency periods."

The fact that they also found correlations between education, marriage, alcohol intake, activeness, etc, I don't think we can gather from this study that vegetarian diet leads to lower mortality rates. It seems that vegetarians tend to live a healthier lifestyle overall, so there are too many confounding variables to know for sure.

There have been other studies done however that can give us more concrete answers. In 2005, a German study "compared mortality in German Vegetarians and health-conscious persons in a 21-year followup." By comparing healthy/health-conscious meat eaters, the study conductors narrowed down variables to find what was the healthiest. As "vegetarians tend not to smoke, drink alcohol or indulge in sugar and highly processed foods," the results will be naturally skewed to show reduced mortality rates in vegetarians when compared to meat-eaters who follow a typical western diet.  The important conclusion of this study was that "it was other factors--low prevalence of smoking and moderate or high levels of physical activity--that were associated with reduced overall mortality, not the vegetarian diet."

Even if vegetarianism isn't proven to reduce mortality rates, it could play a part in reducing other health risks. "The largest study ever conducted in the UK" analyzed 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland and compared rates of heart disease between people who practiced vegetarianism and people who didn't. This study, after tracking participants for nearly 20 years, found that vegetarians are 28% less likely to develop heart disease. The study did say that "researchers found that vegetarians had lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians, which is thought to be the main reason behind their reduced risk of heart disease." Even though this study surveyed how healthy each participant considered their lifestyle to be, there are still possible confounding variables that could explain this reduced rate of heart disease - vegetarians being more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke, for instance.

After reading these studies, I feel as though I can't trust the results because there are so many other variables that come into play. In addition to the fact that vegetarians are more likely to live a healthier lifestyle, there are also the variables in the participants' diets and the range from unhealthy to healthy that is being compared. For example, as the German study considered, there are both healthy and unhealthy vegetarians as well as healthy and unhealthy meat eaters. Even just comparing healthy vegetarians and healthy meat eaters, there is the problem of the different type of diet. For example, a healthy meat eater could be following a Mediterranean diet; the meat they could be eating may be limited to chicken or include other read meat, etc. There are many variations in a vegetarian diet as well, which leaves the idea that you live longer if you don't eat meat hard to prove.

I think that it is not a death sentence to include meat in your diet, as long as you live a healthy lifestyle. What do you think? Do you think people should focus on a vegetarian diet because there seems to be nothing to lose but something, however hard it seems to prove in research, to gain?


Sources: 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/04/vegetarians-death-premature-longevity-live-longer_n_3380781.html

http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1691919

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-06/tjnj-vda053013.php

http://www.westonaprice.org/vegetarianism-and-plant-foods/not-to-go-vegetarian

 ttp://www.aicr.org/press/health-features/nutrition-notes/nn-is-vegetarian-healthier.html

http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2013/130130.html

 

3 Comments

I think the vegetarian lifestyle is a very big controversy in this day and age. The reason I believe is because a lot of people are trying to become vegetarian and end up living a lifestyle that isn't so healthy because they do not substitute important nutrients like protein that they would have gotten from meats. In order to successfully be a vegetarian you have to be committed and knowledgable about the diet and lifestyle in order to become a healthy individual.
I do find errors in these studies only because there can be so many third variables like you mentioned and for that reason I don't think that even after all of these large studied you can credit a vegetarian lifestyle to a longer life because there are plenty of people that life the same lifestyles if you take out their choice of eating meat.

Fascinating article. My parents have been pescatarians for 25 years however, they allowed me to make my own choice when it came to eating and I chose meat. This article has made me reconsider that choice! Even though the study proved that vegetarians are 28% less likely to develop heart diseases than meat-eaters, I am still not so hasty to want to give up filet...

This article also suggests that if one takes up an all-vegetarian diet "You may loose weight but you also may lack energy...You’ll get more vitamins, minerals and nutrients but you probably won’t get enough calcium (from diary) or essential fatty acids (from fish) or folic acid (from grains)."

I have always wondered what it would be like to become a vegetarian, but I feel like vegetarians also struggle with other ways to get protein. I do think vegetarians could be considered to live longer, because usually vegetarians are sticking to clean meals, less carbs, and could be more active because they care about their eating habits and probably the way they look and feel. However, I think "meat-eaters" could live just as long, if the right meat is eaten. There is a huge difference between white meat and red meat. White meat is leaner meat, while red meat has much higher fat content and calories. Red meat can be linked to high cholesterol and can cause issues with the heart. This article actually explains how red meat can be detrimental to one's health. http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/red-meat-is-it-hazardous-to-health/

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