Carotid Intima-Media Thickness of Vegetarians in China

In my post of yesterday about the semi-vegetarians in Chad, I said that there is a steady flow of cross-sectional studies on semi-vegetarians from developed countries and their cardiovascular disease markers. Today I’m reporting on another one that can roughly go in that category, although the subjects were actual vegetarians (171 males) from a temple in China (1). They were mostly vegan, though some occasionally eat eggs and milk. They were compared to 129 omnivores.

Intima-media thickness is a measure of the thickness of the artery wall that has been shown to predict cardiovascular disease. To make a long story short, the vegetarians had thinner carotid intima-media indicating less atherosclerosis.

Other results were all over the board. For example, even though vegetarians had lower BMI, they had higher waist to hip ratios. Surprisingly, the vegetarians had much lower homocysteine levels, but the homocysteine levels for both groups were “off the charts” at 76 and 125 µmol/l respectively. I’ve never heard of homocysteine levels so high (normal is between 6 and 12 µmol/l) and it makes me think their measuring methods were not calibrated to other studies’ methods.

One final tidbit: Total cholesterol for vegetarians and omnivores was 164 and 193 mg/dl.

The take home message: Make sure you have a reliable source of vitamin B12. (Just kidding!)

1. Yang SY, Zhang HJ, Sun SY, Wang LY, Yan B, Liu CQ, Zhang W, Li XJ. Relationship of carotid intima-media thickness and duration of vegetarian diet in Chinese male vegetarians. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2011 Sep 19;8(1):63. Link

2 Responses to “Carotid Intima-Media Thickness of Vegetarians in China”

  1. barefeet Says:

    I’m glad to see more studies that show us how healthy plant based eating can be. But I’m tired of seeing studies that compare nuns or monks to people in the general population. These people lead a life of contemplation, prayer and good works. There could be a dozen reasons why their readings are better than omnivores in the outside world. A better study would compare monks who eat a plant based diet with monks who eat an omnivore diet. Then the study wouldn’t be so easy for omnivores to blow off.

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:


    Sometimes they compare nuns to nuns. I think it’s hard to find true vegetarians in those countries who aren’t part of a religious sect. There are many reasons why those studies do not tell us much about vegetarians in developed countries, such as the fact that they rarely take any sort of supplements or eat foods fortified with nutrients like vitamin B12, D, or calcium. And cross-sectional studies are always of limited value.

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