Objective: To examine the associations of vegetarianism with risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: The EPIC-Oxford study, a cohort in the United Kingdom with a large proportion of non-meat eaters, recruited across the country between 1993 and 2001.
Participants: 48 188 participants with no history of ischaemic heart disease, stroke, or angina (or cardiovascular disease) were classified into three distinct diet groups: meat eaters (participants who consumed meat, regardless of whether they consumed fish, dairy, or eggs; n=24 428), fish eaters (consumed fish but no meat; n=7506), and vegetarians including vegans (n=16 254), based on dietary information collected at baseline, and subsequently around 2010 (n=28 364).
Main outcome measures: Incident cases of ischaemic heart disease and stroke (including ischaemic and haemorrhagic types) identified through record linkage until 2016.
Results: Over 18.1 years of follow-up, 2820 cases of ischaemic heart disease and 1072 cases of total stroke (519 ischaemic stroke and 300 haemorrhagic stroke) were recorded. After adjusting for sociodemographic and lifestyle confounders, fish eaters and vegetarians had 13% (hazard ratio 0.87, 95% confidence interval 0.77 to 0.99) and 22% (0.78, 0.70 to 0.87) lower rates of ischaemic heart disease than meat eaters, respectively (P<0.001 for heterogeneity). This difference was equivalent to 10 fewer cases of ischaemic heart disease (95% confidence interval 6.7 to 13.1 fewer) in vegetarians than in meat eaters per 1000 population over 10 years. The associations for ischaemic heart disease were partly attenuated after adjustment for self reported high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and body mass index (hazard ratio 0.90, 95% confidence interval 0.81 to 1.00 in vegetarians with all adjustments). By contrast, vegetarians had 20% higher rates of total stroke (hazard ratio 1.20, 95% confidence interval 1.02 to 1.40) than meat eaters, equivalent to three more cases of total stroke (95% confidence interval 0.8 to 5.4 more) per 1000 population over 10 years, mostly due to a higher rate of haemorrhagic stroke. The associations for stroke did not attenuate after further adjustment of disease risk factors.
Conclusions: In this prospective cohort in the UK, fish eaters and vegetarians had lower rates of ischaemic heart disease than meat eaters, although vegetarians had higher rates of haemorrhagic and total stroke.
Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to http://group.bmj.com/group/rights-licensing/permissions.