Background: Although the health benefits of vegetarian diets have been well documented among Western population, there are geographic differences of vegetarian diets and the health benefits of the Taiwanese vegetarian diet have not been studied extensively. In addition to conventional risk factors, homocysteine and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) levels have been found to predict first atherothrombotic events. We undertook this study to examine the total risk profile of Taiwanese vegetarians.
Methods: A total of 198 healthy subjects (99 vegetarians and 99 omnivores) were recruited. Fasting blood samples were analyzed for glucose, cholesterol, triglyceride, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), white blood cell count, hs-CRP and homocysteine.
Results: There was no significant difference in age, body mass index, blood glucose, white blood cell count, triglyceride and HDL-C between the two groups. The vegetarian group had significantly more females (65.7 vs 46.5%); lower body weight (58.66+/-11.13 vs 62.88+/-12.24 kg); shorter height (159.14+/-7.88 vs 162.53 +/-8.14 cm); lower total cholesterol (184.74+/-33.23 vs 202.01+/-41.05 mg/dl); and lower LDL-C (119.63+/-31.59 vs 135.89+/-39.50 mg/dl). Hs-CRP was significantly lower (0.14+/-0.23 vs 0.23+/-0.44 mg/dl, P=0.025), whereas homocysteine was significantly higher (10.97+/-6.69 vs 8.44+/-2.50 micromol/l, P=0.001) in vegetarians than omnivores.
Conclusions: Taiwanese vegetarians have lower total cholesterol, LDL-C and hs-CRP levels, and higher homocysteine levels than omnivores. Owing to different predictive value of each risk factor, the Taiwanese vegetarians had a better cardiovascular risk profile than omnivores. Whether the Taiwanese vegetarian diet should be supplemented with vitamin B(12) to lower serum homocysteine level remains to be addressed.