Eating a vegetarian diet may be associated with living longer, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers from Loma Linda University found that vegetarians had a 12 percent lower risk of dying over a six-year period, compared with non-vegetarians.
"These results demonstrate an overall association of vegetarian dietary patterns with lower mortality compared with the nonvegetarian dietary pattern," the researchers wrote in the study. "They also demonstrate some associations with lower mortality of the pesco-vegetarian, vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets specifically compared with the nonvegetarian diet."
The study included 73,308 Seventh-Day Adventist men and women, who were recruited sometime between 2002 and 2007, and were followed for a mean time of 5.79 years. Over that time period, 2,570 people died.
Researchers found that compared with nonvegetarians, all vegetarians had a 12 percent lower risk of dying over this time period. Specifically, vegans had a 15 percent lower risk of death, lacto-ovo-vegetarians had a 9 percent lower risk of death, pesco-vegetarians had a 19 percent lower risk of death and semi-vegetarians had an 8 percent lower risk of death.
However, it's important to note that people who are vegetarians tended to be more likely to be married, have higher education levels and be older and thinner. They were also more likely to exercise, to not smoke and to not drink. Researchers noted that all of these are also factors could play a role in their lower risk of death.
In addition, it's important to note that the follow-up period in the study was relatively short -- researchers acknowledged in the study that "this analysis is limited by relatively early follow-up. If dietary patterns affect mortality, they may do so with moderate effect sizes, via complex pathways, and with long latency periods." In other words, researchers are saying that any true associations between longevity and vegetarianism may have yet to be detected since the follow-up period was so short.
Loma Linda University researchers have long been known for their studies on vegetarianism and health. Last year, they presented findings so far from their Adventist Health Study 2 at a meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showing that Seventh Day Adventist men who are vegetarians live 9.5 years longer, and Seventh Day Adventist women who are vegetarians live 6.1 years longer, than other people in California, Everyday Health reported.
Furthermore, a study from University of Oxford researchers that came out earlier this year showed that consuming a vegetarian diet lowers heart disease risk by 32 percent, compared with meat- and fish-eaters. That study included 45,000 people in the U.K.; 34 percent of them were vegetarians. Researchers found in that study that vegetarians were also less likely to have high body mass indexes, and also less likely to have diabetes.
Plus, a 2011 study in the journal Diabetes Care showed that a vegetarian diet is linked with fewer metabolic risk factors, and a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome (considered a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes).