Study: Vegetarians Have Healthier Biomarker Profile than Meat-Eaters

by johnsmith

Vegetarians appear to have lower levels of disease biomarkers that can lead to cell damage and chronic disease, according to new research from the University of Glasgow.

Vegetarians have a healthier biomarker profile than meat-eaters. Image credit: Rita E.

Vegetarians have a healthier biomarker profile than meat-eaters. Image credit: Rita E.

Biomarkers, or biological markers, are objective, quantifiable characteristics of biological processes.

They are often measured and evaluated using blood, urine, or soft tissues.

“Biomarkers can have bad and good health effects, promoting or preventing cancer, cardiovascular and age-related diseases, and other chronic conditions, and have been widely used to assess the effect of diets on health,” said senior author Dr. Carlos Celis Morales from the University of Glasgow and his colleagues.

“However, evidence of the metabolic benefits associated with being vegetarian is unclear.”

To understand whether dietary choice can make a difference to the levels of disease markers in blood and urine, Dr. Celis Morales and co-authors analyzed data from 177,723 healthy participants (aged 37-73 years) of the UK Biobank study.

Participants were categorized as either vegetarian (do not eat red meat, poultry or fish; 4,111 participants) or meat-eaters (166,516 participants) according to their self-reported diet.

The researchers examined the association with 19 blood and urine biomarkers related to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, liver, bone and joint health, and kidney function.

Even after accounting for potentially influential factors including age, sex, education, ethnicity, obesity, smoking, and alcohol intake, they found that compared to meat-eaters, vegetarians had significantly lower levels of 13 biomarkers, including:

– total cholesterol;

– low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the so-called ‘bad cholesterol;

– apolipoprotein A (linked to cardiovascular disease);

– apolipoprotein B (linked to cardiovascular disease);

– gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) and alanine aminotransferase (AST) — liver function markers indicating inflammation or damage to cells;

– insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1 — a hormone that encourages the growth and proliferation of cancer cells);

– urate;

– total protein;

– and creatinine (marker of worsening kidney function).

However, vegetarians also had lower levels of beneficial biomarkers, including:

– high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol;

– vitamin D;

– and calcium (linked to bone and joint health).

In addition, they had significantly higher level of fats (triglycerides) in the blood and cystatin-C (suggesting a poorer kidney condition).

No link was found for blood sugar levels, systolic blood pressure, aspartate aminotransferase (AST — a marker of damage to liver cells) or C-reactive protein (CRP — inflammatory marker).

“Our findings offer real food for thought,” Dr. Celis-Morales said.

“As well as not eating red and processed meat which have been linked to heart diseases and some cancers, people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to consume more vegetables, fruits, and nuts which contain more nutrients, fiber, and other potentially beneficial compounds.”

“These nutritional differences may help explain why vegetarians appear to have lower levels of disease biomarkers that can lead to cell damage and chronic disease.”

The scientists presented their results this month at the 28th annual European Congress on Obesity (ECO 2021).


Jirapitcha Boonpor et al. Differences in health-related biomarkers profile of vegetarians and meat-eaters: A cross-sectional analysis of the UK Biobank study. ECO 2021, # EP3-33

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