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California research finds 12% lower risk of dying for those who don't eat meat

By Denise Mann

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, June 3 (HealthDay News) -- Vegetarians may live longer than meat-lovers, new research suggests.

Scientists in California analyzed the diets of 73,300 Seventh Day Adventists, and found that vegetarians were less likely to die from any cause or from cause-specific reasons, except for cancer, compared to those who ate meat.

"Certain vegetarian diets are associated with reductions in all causes of [death] as well as some specific causes including heart disease, kidney-related deaths and endocrine disease-related death such as diabetes," said lead researcher Dr. Michael Orlich, a preventive medicine specialist at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda.

The big question is why, and the study wasn't designed to answer that, Orlich noted.

"Reductions in meat in the vegetarian diet may be part of it, but it may be due to higher quantities of plant foods," he added, although it is also possible that vegetarians may lead more healthy lives.

The research was published online June 3 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

For the study, the researchers used a food questionnaire to assess dietary patterns and looked at men and women who adhered to one of five diets: non-vegetarian; semi-vegetarian (eats meat or fish no more than once a week); pesco-vegetarian (consumes seafood); lacto-ovo-vegetarian (includes both dairy products and eggs), and vegans, who don't eat any animal products.

During the course of the more than five-year study, 2,570 people died. But vegetarians were about 12 percent less likely to die from any cause than their meat-eating counterparts, the study showed. And the survival edge seemed to be stronger in men than women.

In addition, the researchers noted that vegetarians tended to be older and more educated, exercised more and were less likely to drink alcohol or smoke than their carnivorous counterparts.

The study also did not pinpoint which type of vegetarian diet provides the greatest survival benefit because the vegetarian diets were compared to non-vegetarian diets only, not to one another.

The research team now plans to look at the patterns of food consumption seen in each vegetarian diet. "We want to see what they eat more or less of, and then investigate the effect on mortality or associated with specific foods," Orlich said. "Are there particular foods that account for most of this apparent association. Is the lack of meat the big issue, or is the amount of plant-based foods responsible?"

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