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Diet of Vegetables Lowers Atherosclerosis Risk - Vegetarians Have Lower Blood Pressure and Increase Good Cholesterol HDL - Study

June 18th 2006

Diet of Vegetables Lowers Atherosclerosis Risk - Vegetarians Have Lower Blood Pressure and Increase Good Cholesterol HDL - Study


Researchers have discovered that vegetables are good for you because they reduce hardening of the arteries.  Scientists at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine conducted their research on mice that were predispose to developing atherosclerosis, the formation fatty plaques on blood vessel walls which will eventually protrude into the vessel's opening and can reduce blood flow.

The mice all had elevated levels of bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL), which is a risk factor for atherosclerosis in humans.  The researchers fed half of the mice a diet consisting of 30 percent (of their calories) vegetables. These vegetables included a mixture of freeze-dried broccoli, green beans, corn, peas and carrots.  These are five of the top-10 vegetables eaten in the United States based on frequency of consumption.


The other group of mice was fed no vegetables whatsoever.  According to lead researcher Michael Adams, D.V.M., "While everyone knows that eating more vegetables is supposed to be good for you, no one had shown before that it can actually inhibit the development of atherosclerosis.  This suggests how a diet high in vegetables may help prevent heart attacks and strokes."

After 16 weeks, the scientists measured and compared two forms of cholesterol in an effort to estimate the extent of atherosclerosis.  They found that the mice fed the vegetables had less plaque build-up compared to the no-vegetable group.  The plaques in the vegetable group were 38 percent “smaller”.  The researchers also found modest improvements in body weight and cholesterol levels in their blood.

The estimates extent of the atherosclerosis involved measuring free and ester cholesterol, two forms that accumulate in plaques as they develop.  They found the rate of this accumulation was highly predictive of the actual amount of plaque present in the vessels.


Scientists are not sure why the high-vegetable diet influenced the development of plaque on the artery wall.  Adams explains, “Although the pathways involved remain uncertain, the results indicate that a diet rich in green and yellow vegetables inhibits the development of hardening of the arteries and may reduce the risk of heart disease." 

The 37 percent reduction in a certain marker of inflammation in mice suggested that vegetable consumption may inhibit inflammatory activity. "It is well known that atherosclerosis progression is intimately linked with inflammation in the arteries," according to Adams.  "Our results, combined with other studies, support the idea that increased vegetable consumption inhibits atherosclerosis progression through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory pathways."

This research was published in the current issue of the Journal of Nutrition.  There has been previous research that has shown that vegetables can lower blood pressure and increase good cholesterol (HDL).  But this is apparently the first study to examine the diet’s effect on the development or progression of atherosclerosis.


Doctors have maintained that diets high in fruits and vegetables are beneficial to your health.  In the 1970’s, researchers discovered that blood pressure was lower in vegetarians who ate little or no fat and cholesterol but ate lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains rich in potassium, magnesium, and fiber. 

As a result of that discovery scientists began working on the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet.  This diet may also cut the risk of developing diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.  Genjiro Kimura, who helped author the original DASH study, believes the combination of fruits and vegetables acts as a natural diuretic.  Recently some of the original researchers have stated that they believe they need to revise the DASH diet to include more fat and protein.

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Dan Wilson
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