Does eating a vegan or veggie diet really increase your stroke risk?

vegan strokesCC: Jannis Brandt at Unsplash

Since 1971, the number of people leading vegan and vegetarian lifestyles has jumped from 1% to 3.7%. Although some people make the change for health reasons, others believe it’s a more ethical way to eat. Because of the rise of vegans and vegetarians, scientists around the world have tried to measure health impacts. According to one study, living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle increases your stroke risk.

Healthier hearts, but an overall increased stroke risk

In total, the study looked at 48,000 people over an 18-year period. The results found that per 1,000 people, vegans and vegetarians have 10 fewer heart attacks. However, 3 more people per 1,000 had strokes.

The results above suggest that the increased stroke risk isn’t because vegans and veggies have a worse cardiac profile overall. At first glance, they appear to suggest that leading a meat-free lifestyle comes with the risk of having a stroke. However, as the study was observational, it only shows a supposed link. As we know from other areas of science, correlation doesn’t mean causation.

The reasons for an increased stroke risk aren’t clear

It’s worth considering whether a plant-based diet isn’t the true cause of strokes among vegans and vegetarians. Instead, there could be other elements of their lifestyle that make the event more likely. Because of this, it’s important that people keep an open mind before making major adjustments to their diet.

One theory presented by the researchers is that vegans and vegetarians have lower B12 levels. Having lower B12 levels increases your risk of stroke. If the study’s results concern you, take a look at your diet and identify whether you’re getting enough B12.

Decreasing your stroke risk is about more than your diet

Although what you eat plays a major role in your stroke risk, there are other steps you can take too. They include:

  • If you have high blood pressure, keep it within a normal range. High blood pressure increases your chances of forming a clot, which may then cause a stroke.
  • If you’re a smoker, stop. Smoking increases your blood pressure and causes plaque to form along your arteries. Over time, this too can cause a clot.
  • Try to keep your blood glucose within a normal range. Some evidence shows that high blood glucose has a shearing effect against your artery walls. As clotting agents flood to the sheared site, your arteries narrow.
  • Decrease your stress levels wherever possible. When you’re existing in a state of chronic stress, you’re more likely to have a stroke.

Finally, if there’s a history of strokes in your family and you’re worried, talk to a medical professional.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.