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Vegan diet improves heart health in a matter of weeks 

A study conducted by Stanford Medicine has revealed significant benefits of a vegan diet for cardiovascular health. 

The research, which involved 22 pairs of identical twins, demonstrated notable improvements in cardiovascular health among individuals following a vegan diet after just a few weeks.

Focus of the study

The study was focused on identical twins for control over genetic variables and a more accurate assessment of the diet’s effects. 

“Not only did this study provide a groundbreaking way to assert that a vegan diet is healthier than the conventional omnivore diet, but the twins were also a riot to work with,” said Dr. Christopher Gardner, who led the study. 

“They dressed the same, they talked the same and they had a banter between them that you could have only if you spent an inordinate amount of time together.”

How the research was conducted 

The twins participated in an eight-week trial, where one twin from each pair was assigned a vegan diet and the other an omnivore diet. Both diets were healthy, rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, but differed in the inclusion of animal products.

For the first four weeks, participants received 21 meals per week from a meal service, and for the remaining time, they prepared their own meals. A registered dietitian provided guidance throughout the study. 

Improving long-term health 

Of the 44 participants, 43 completed the trial. Dr. Gardner said this demonstrates how feasible it is to learn how to a prepare a healthy diet in four weeks.

“Our study used a generalizable diet that is accessible to anyone, because 21 out of the 22 vegans followed through with the diet,” said Dr. Gardner. “This suggests that anyone who chooses a vegan diet can improve their long-term health in two months, with the most change seen in the first month.”

Key insights

The results were clear: those on the vegan diet showed significant improvements in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), insulin levels, and body weight – all key indicators of cardiovascular health. 

The average LDL-C levels dropped more significantly in the vegan group. These participants also showed about a 20 percent drop in fasting insulin and lost an average of 4.2 more pounds than the omnivores.

Study implications 

Dr. Gardner emphasized the broader implications of the study. “Based on these results and thinking about longevity, most of us would benefit from going to a more plant-based diet.”

He noted that the vegan diet participants effectively reduced saturated fats, increased dietary fiber, and lost weight – crucial steps for improving cardiovascular health.

Plant-based foods 

Dr. Gardner said that although most people will probably not go vegan, a nudge in the plant-based direction could improve health. 

“A vegan diet can confer additional benefits such as increased gut bacteria and the reduction of telomere loss, which slows aging in the body.”

“What’s more important than going strictly vegan is including more plant-based foods into your diet,” said Gardner, who has been “mostly vegan” for the last 40 years. “Luckily, having fun with vegan multicultural foods like Indian masala, Asian stir-fry and African lentil-based dishes can be a great first step.”

The research is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

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