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Vegetarians may be at lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke

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Public release date: 13-Apr-2011

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Loma Linda University study suggests metabolic syndrome is significantly less prevalent in vegetarians. Vegetarians experience a 36 percent lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome than non- vegetarians, suggests new research from Loma Linda University published in the journal Diabetes Care. Because metabolic syndrome can be a precursor to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, the findings indicate vegetarians may be at lower risk of developing these conditions.

Metabolic syndrome is defined as exhibiting at least three out of five total risk factors: high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high glucose levels, elevated triglycerides, and an unhealthy waist circumference. The Loma Linda University study found that while 25 percent of vegetarians had metabolic syndrome, the number significantly rises to 37 percent for semi-vegetarians and 39 percent for non-vegetarians. The results hold up when adjusted for factors such as age, gender, race, physical activity, calories consumed, smoking, and alcohol intake.

“In view of the high rate of metabolic syndrome in the United States and its deleterious health effects, we wanted to examine lifestyle patterns that could be effective in the prevention and possible treatment of this disorder,” says lead researcher Nico S. Rizzo, PhD.

“I was not sure if there would be a significant difference between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, and I

was surprised by just how much the numbers contrast,” he continues. “It indicates that lifestyle factors such as diet can be important in the prevention of metabolic syndrome.”

The study examined more than 700 adults randomly sampled from Loma Linda University’s Adventist Health Study 2, a long-term study of the lifestyle and health of almost 100,000 Seventh-day Adventist Christians across the United States and Canada.

Thirty-five percent of the subjects in this smaller sub-study were vegetarian. On average, the vegetarians and semi-vegetarians were three years older than non-vegetarians. Despite their slightly older age, vegetarians had lower triglycerides, glucose levels, blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass index (BMI). Semi-vegetarians also had a significantly lower BMI and waist circumference compared to those who ate meat more regularly.

“This work again shows that diet improves many of the main cardiovascular risk factors that are part of metabolic syndrome,” says Gary Fraser, MD, PhD, principal investigator of Adventist Health Study 2. “Trending toward a plant-based diet is a sensible choice.”

Too Much Information? Risk-benefit data does not always lead to informed decision-making Quantitative data should not be disclosed to all patients, article argues, and a commentary calls for research into how best to present information about risk
(Garrison, NY) Giving patients data about the risks and benefits of a medical intervention is not always helpful and may even lead them to irrational decisions, according to an article in the Hastings Center Report. That finding calls into question whether it is essential to disclose quantitative data to patients to help them make informed decisions. An accompanying commentary calls for experimental evidence to determine the best way to provide information to patients.

The analyses come at a time when many patient advocates and others are embracing the “quantitative imperative” – the obligation to disclose risk-related data to patients to ensure informed consent and promote shared decision-making. Because patients often do not get information about all of their options by talking to their health care providers, decision aids – pamphlets, videos, and computer programs – increasingly are being used to convey such data more comprehensively. There are more than 500 decision aids and more than 55 randomized controlled trials studying their impact. A recent review concluded that decision aids increase patient knowledge and the feeling of being informed while decreasing indecision and passivity.

However, disclosure of quantitative data can backfire. “There are important problems with it stemming from the way people understand and respond to numerical and graphical information,” writes Peter H. Schwartz, a faculty investigator at the Indiana University Center for Bioethics. An accompanying commentary by Peter Ubel, professor of marketing and public policy at Duke University, agrees with Schwartz’s analysis of the numeracy problem, and argues that there ways to present risk that overcome some of the problems.

One problem is that more than half of adults have significant difficulty understanding or applying probabilistic and mathematical concepts. National surveys suggest that at least 22 percent of adults have only the most basic quantitative skills, such as counting, while another 33 percent fare only slightly better and are able to do simple arithmetic.

But even people who have a good grasp of probability and math are prone to biases in how they interpret data on risks, Schwartz says, citing 30 years of psychology literature. They may give exaggerated importance to small risks or, conversely, exhibit “optimism bias” and exaggerate the chance that they will be in the “lucky” group. “Which of these biases come into play in a given situation…. depends on the individual’s psychology and the way the information is presented,” he writes. Either way, the bias can lead patients to make decisions about medical interventions that are not based on reason or facts.

Schwartz cites as an example the interpretation of the new mammography guidelines announced by the United States Preventive Services Task Force in 2009, which proposed that screening start at age 50 instead of 40 and be done every two years instead of annually. While mammograms for women ages 40 to 49 slightly reduce mortality from breast cancer, they also result in significantly more false positives and overtreatment. Thus a woman’s decision to get mammograms while she is in this age range involves important trade-offs, and the choice depends on the individual’s beliefs and values.

Schwartz argues that clinicians should not always disclose all available quantitative data to all patients. “While the data should always be available to patients who want it, the question is, how to offer it and in what form,” he writes. “These issues suggest that much more empirical research and ethical analysis are required about the use of quantitative information in decision-making.”

“Questions about how and when to disclose quantitative information will become ever more pressing as advances in epidemiology and genetics provide increasingly precise ways to characterize the risks that patients face and the possible impacts of preventive treatments.”

In his commentary, Peter Ubel reports that his studies show that whether decision aids improve patient decisions depends on how it is constructed. For example, pictographs proved better at conveying risks than narrative or other kinds of graphic information. He argues for research into how best to present information about risk to patients so as to aid decision making. “Those of us who care about patient autonomy and informed consent should work to find out what kind and manner of information will be most useful and least biasing to the largest number of people,” he concludes.

About Post Author

Ralph Turchiano

I have a strong affinity for the sciences which led me to create my sites. My compulsion for the past decade has been reviewing literally every peer-reviewed research article. Which can easily be validated by following my posts. To me, science is where the real news is, as it will mold our destiny beyond that of politics or economics. 😉 Please feel free to e-mail: 161803p314159@gmail.com
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