Purpose: Vegetarian diets have been associated with reduced risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD). However, results regarding cardiovascular disease (CVD) overall and stroke are less clear. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies on CVD, IHD and stroke risk among vegetarians or vegans versus nonvegetarians to clarify these associations.
Methods: PubMed and Ovid Embase databases were searched through August 12, 2021. Prospective cohort studies reporting adjusted relative risk (RR) estimates and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for incidence or mortality from CVD, IHD and stroke, comparing vegetarians and vegans to nonvegetarians were included. Risk of bias (RoB) was assessed using ROBINS-I and the strength of evidence was assessed using World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) criteria. Summary RRs (95% CIs) were estimated using a random effects model.
Results: Thirteen cohort studies (844,175 participants, 115,392 CVD, 30,377 IHD, and 14,419 stroke cases) were included. The summary RR for vegetarians vs. nonvegetarians was 0.85 (95% CI: 0.79-0.92, I2 = 68%, n = 8) for CVD, 0.79 (95% CI: 0.71-0.88, I2 = 67%, n = 8) for IHD, 0.90 (95% CI: 0.77-1.05, I2 = 61%, n = 12) for total stroke, and for vegans vs. nonvegetarians was 0.82 (95% CI: 0.68-1.00, I2 = 0%, n = 6) for IHD. RoB was moderate (n = 8) to serious (n = 5). The associations between vegetarian diets and CVD and IHD were considered probably causal using WCRF criteria.
Conclusions: Vegetarian diets are associated with reduced risk of CVD and IHD, but not stroke, but further studies are needed on stroke. These findings should be considered in dietary guidelines.
Review registration: No review protocol registered.
Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Ischemic heart disease; Meta-analysis; Stroke; Vegan; Vegetarian.
© 2022. The Author(s).