Heart disease patients benefit from vegetarian diet

Chalmers University of Technology

Four weeks of vegetarian diet resulted in positive effects in patients with coronary artery disease, according to a study from Örebro University Hospital in collaboration with Chalmers and other partners.

“The study showed positive effects on risk factors of cardiovascular disease, especially on blood lipids and oxidation of blood lipids. The latter is an important suggestive mechanism of arteriosclerosis,” says Rikard Landberg, Professor of Food Science at Chalmers University of Technology.

The study, recently ​published in Journal of the American Heart Association (link), is a so-called cross-over study and included 31 patients who had experienced a myocardial infarction. For three months, participants were prescribed either a ​lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, i.e. a vegetarian diet that also contains eggs and dairy products, or a diet rich in meat. Thereafter, all participants switched to their habitual diet for four weeks, followed by four weeks with the diet they had not previously had.

Lower levels of LDL cholesterol reduce risk of new heart attack​

After four weeks of a vegetarian diet, participants showed lower levels of oxidised LDL cholesterol, compared with participants who ate a diet rich in meat.
“The oxidised LDL cholesterol affects the development of blood clots in the coronary arteries of the heart. Lower levels reduce the risk of participants suffering from a new heart attack,” says Demir Djekic, researcher and MD at Örebro University Hospital, who is also the first author of the study.
The participants also showed a decrease in the total amount of cholesterol in the blood and a slight weight loss.
“Today we know very little about how to provide an optimal diet to prevent risk factors for cardiovascular disease in individuals who have already had a heart attack. The effects in the study were surprisingly clear and the effect of the diet was good, even though we did not ask them to eat very much vegetarian food and they were prescribed ready-made food, which is quite processed,” says Rikard Landberg.

Chalmers responsible for diet design and data analysis​

All participants were prescribed a specially designed diet delivered as ready meals, adapted to the individual calorie needs. Before and after each four-week period of an adapted diet, blood and stool samples were taken from the participants for analysis of risk markers for coronary heart disease, a wide range of molecules in the blood and the gut microbiota. The diet was designed by researchers in the Division of Food and Nutrition Science at the Department of Biology and Biotechnological Engineering at Chalmers. They were also responsible for the data analysis of the blood samples.
“This is an example of interdisciplinary research at its best, as we combine specific cutting-edge knowledge in nutrition, microbiology, data analysis and medicine. It was extremely stimulating and very enriching. We have all learned a lot,” says Rikard Landberg.

Lifestyle important part of treatment after a heart attack​

Demir Djekic agrees and believes that the study shows that lifestyle is a very important part of the treatment after a heart attack, even though the number of participants in the study is relatively small.

“Changing the diet of this patient group is of great importance. We need to find methods and the right tools to help us improve lifestyle choices,” says Demir Djekic.

Microbiota effected effects of v​egetarian diet

The study also showed that, on the risk factors examined, the microbiota of the participants effected the vegetarian diet.

“From our perspective, this is perhaps the most interesting finding and opens up new exciting opportunities for personalised diet, where the individual gets the right diet for optimal effect,” says Rikard Landberg.

Text: Susanne Nilsson Lindh, Chalmers and Elin Abelson, Örebro University Hospital

Photo: Pixabay

Read the study in Journal of American Heart Association:

Effects of a Vegetarian Diet on Cardiometabolic RiskFactors, Gut Microbiota, and Plasma Metabolome in Subjects With Ischemic HeartDisease: A Randomized, Crossover Study​

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