People who eat a vegetarian diet rich in nuts, vegetables and soy may have a lower risk of stroke than people who eat a diet that includes meat and fish, new research has suggested.
The study, published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, analysed two groups of participants from Buddhist communities in Taiwan.
One study group included 5,050 people who were followed for an average of six years, while the second included 8,302 who were followed for nine years.
Approximately a third of the participants in both groups were vegetarians, which researchers defined as people who did not eat any meat or fish. But study authors note that only 25% of vegetarians were men.
Participants were given a medical examination at the start of the study and asked to fill out a questionnaire about their diet.
In the first group researchers revealed there were 54 strokes. For ischemic strokes, which occur when an artery in the brain becomes blocked, there were three strokes among 1,424 vegetarians, compared to 28 strokes among 3,626 non-vegetarians.
After taking into consideration age, sex, smoking and health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, researchers found vegetarians in this group had a 74% lower risk of ischemic stroke than non-vegetarians.
In the second group of 8,302 people, there were 121 strokes. For both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, which occur when blood from an artery begins bleeding into the brain, there were 24 strokes among 2,719 vegetarians, compared to 97 strokes among 5,583 non-vegetarians.
After adjusting for other factors, researchers found vegetarians in this group had a 48% lower risk of overall stroke than non-vegetarians.
According to the researchers, hypertension, is one of the most important risk factor’s for stroke, and the vegetarians in this study had significantly lower rates of elevated blood pressure than those who ate meat or fish.
Additionally, cholesterol levels were also lower among the vegetarians.
“Overall, our study found that a vegetarian diet was beneficial and reduced the risk of ischemic stroke even after adjusting for known risk factors like blood pressure, blood glucose levels and fats in the blood,” study author Chin-Lon Lin of Tzu Chi University in Hualien, Taiwan told ScienceDaily.
“This could mean that perhaps there is some other protective mechanism that may protecting those who eat a vegetarian diet from stroke.”
Study authors did cite some limitations to their study, acknowledging that there could be other variables that had an impact on the stroke risk, that they had not tracked.
Also, participant diet was only assessed only at the beginning of the study and could have changed over time.
Additionally, the study only analysed particular communities in Taiwan, therefore the results might not be the same in other populations.
Read more: 10 reasons to go vegan
The study contradicts further research, released last year, which found that people who follow vegan and vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease, but a higher risk of stroke.
The research, by the University of Oxford, found 20% higher rates of stroke in vegetarians and vegans, than in meat eaters: the equivalent to three more cases of stroke per 1,000 people.
Researchers believe the increased risk of stroke could be down to lower levels of vitamins among the vegetarian and vegan participants.
Study authors also suggested that low blood levels of total cholesterol among vegetarians and vegans may play a role.
But researchers said further investigation is needed before changing diet guidelines.
The NHS Eatwell Guide shows the different types of food vegetarians and vegas should try to eat in order to have a healthy, balanced diet, and in what proportions.
Recent figures have revealed that increasing numbers of adults are switching to plant-based diets, and there are now thought to be 540,000 vegans in Britain, up from 150,000 a decade ago.