Do vegans live longer than meat-eaters or vegetarians?



Vegan diets are linked to several significant health benefits, including lower risks of cancer and ischemic heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus. But while evidence for the specific health benefits of adopting a vegan diet continues to accumulate, it remains unclear whether these translate to longer lives overall.


Plant-based diets are increasing in popularity, both for the advantages they offer to individual health and the environment and due to an increasing awareness of the abuses of animal agriculture. Despite continuously growing, vegans still remain a minority worldwide. India leads the world with 9% of the country’s population identifying as vegan. In the global north, the vegan population averages around 1-3% per country, while in some areas of the Global South and among some BIPOC communities in the Global North, veganism is part of a traditional cultural diet.


Because vegan populations are often small, studies of vegan diets have frequently grouped vegans together with vegetarians — who, unlike vegans, consume animal products like eggs and dairy — making it difficult to separate out the specific effects of a vegan diet. More studies are needed on vegan populations to address this research gap.


Do vegans live longer?

Although there’s no doubt, based on current studies, that vegan diets convey health benefits that decrease the risk of certain chronic illnesses, it is less clear whether this results in longer lives. Studies comparing vegan, vegetarian, and meat-eating populations have not established a clear link between veganism and lower all-cause mortality, or death from any possible cause.


Studies have produced mixed results as to whether vegans live longer, but overall it does appear that veganism lowers the risk of mortality for certain conditions. In the Adventist Health Study 2, a large epidemiological study conducted in the 2000s in North America, researchers found that both male and female vegans in the study had lower risk of “other mortality” (noncardiovascular and noncancer causes). Male vegans were found to have a lower risk for all-cause mortality, ischemic heart disease mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality.


In a 2018 study, a healthy plant-based diet was associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality in adults, while a study in Australia found no association between a vegetarian diet and lower all-cause mortality. However, this study included both “complete” and “semi-vegetarians” — who consumed animal products weekly or less — in the same group and compared them to “non-vegetarians.”


These conflicting findings illustrate the difficulty of drawing conclusions about vegan diets, when data sets do not separate out actual vegan diets and rely on individuals to accurately report their eating habits.


Do vegans live longer than vegetarians?

In general, mortality rates in vegans and vegetarians are similar, although definitive statements are difficult to make since many studies do not separate strict vegans from vegetarians in their data analysis.


A study conducted in the United Kingdom found no difference in all-cause mortality between vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters, but the vegans and vegetarians were considered part of the same group.


The Adventist Health Study collected data on both vegans and ovo-lacto-vegetarians (who eat eggs and dairy), and concluded that vegan diets carried a comparatively lower risk of hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular mortality. Additionally, vegans had a lower incidence of cancer, but did not exhibit lower cancer mortality rates than vegetarians. However, the protective benefits of both vegan and vegetarian diets were seen mainly in men.


While vegan diets may carry a slight edge over eating vegetarian, there’s no definitive evidence as of yet that vegans live significantly longer than vegetarians.


Do vegans live longer than meat-eaters?

Most studies comparing longevity in vegans and meat-eaters are based on vegetarian or mixed vegetarian and vegan populations. However, vegan diets have significantly lower risks of chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, that lead to significant illness and mortality among meat-eaters.


Furthermore, plant-based diets are becoming increasingly accepted and prescribed by physicians as a means to help manage and correct chronic ailments like hypertension and cardiovascular disease.


In the Advent Health Study 2, vegans and vegetarians had around a 12% lower risk of death when compared to meat-eaters, and while a United Kingdom study did not find any difference between vegans and meat-eaters in all-cause mortality, vegans had lower risk of dying from specific disease conditions. For example, for pancreatic cancer specifically, vegans fared better than meat-eaters.


Vegan diets are without doubt associated with better health, which may lead to an overall better quality of life, but there’s no scientific consensus that vegan diets result in longer life when looking at all-cause mortality. Vegan diets may provide distinct advantages over meat-based diets for certain conditions, like ischemic heart disease. Additionally, vegan and vegetarian diets have regularly shown a lower risk for all cancers when compared to meat-eaters.


How long do vegans live?

Some vegan and vegetarian communities have been studied for increased longevity. An early study on the Adventist community in North America from 2001 found that men lived just over seven years longer than the general population, and women lived about four years longer. While other lifestyle factors affected these results, Adventists tend to be predominantly vegan or vegetarian. When diet was factored in, it was found to add between 1.5 and 2.5 years of life expectancy.


However, the question of how long vegans live compared to other segments of the population remains unresolved and continues to prove challenging for epidemiologists to study. Many factors besides diet influence how long a person lives, and these confounding factors are difficult to account for in population studies. As a result, even if a plant-based diet is shown to increase longevity, as in the Adventist study above, it is plausible that other factors also influenced this finding.


Why do vegans live longer?

Vegans tend to consume healthier foods like fresh vegetables and fruits, although this may vary widely across vegan populations. What a vegan diet looks like also depends on a community’s access to fresh food and the ability to purchase vegan items. However, there are several reasons why a vegan diet is healthier than meat-based diets:


Vegans consume more plants

Because they don’t eat any meat, vegans tend to consume more plants, like fruits and vegetables. These foods contain important nutrients, fiber, vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that contribute to good health and reduce chronic disease risks. Flavonoids are compounds in fruits and vegetables that have been linked to reducing heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and cataracts.


Vegans consume more nuts and healthy fats

Since vegans don’t eat animal fat, they add fats to their diets in other ways. Vegans may consume more nuts and seeds as part of a balanced diet, which may improve vascular function, decrease stiffness in the blood vessels, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.


Nuts also contain bioactive antioxidants that help fight chronic inflammation and oxidative stress that can lead to age-related diseases. Eating nuts on a regular basis may prevent or delay age-related diseases. Nuts may well have other positive metabolic effects.


Vegans don’t eat meat

Because vegans don’t eat meat in their diets, they avoid some of the serious health risks associated with eating meat. Meat is high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels in the bloodstreams of meat-eaters and cause coronary heart disease. In studies of both men and women, when other lifestyle factors were accounted for, red and processed meats were associated with increased risks of death, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, studies have found higher risks of pancreatic cancer in men who consume red and processed meat.


Vegans tend to have healthier lifestyles

Because vegans tend to eat healthier diets, they may also be conscientious about other aspects of their lifestyle, like getting regular exercise, spending time outdoors, and reducing stress. .


Veganism may enhance athletic performance, and plant-based diets are becoming more popular among athletes. In a recent 2020 study, young vegan women were found to have better endurance and higher levels of oxygen utilization than meat-eaters while performing athletic activities.


Vegans have healthier gut microbiomes

The gut microbiome, or the population of “good” bacteria within an individual’s gastrointestinal tract, has been shown to play an important role in overall health and well-being. A vegan diet promotes a more diverse and stable microbiome. Vegans have significantly higher counts of certain beneficial bacterial species compared to meat-eaters. Vegans also tend to ingest more fiber found in plants that increase lactic acid bacteria, like Ruminococcus, E. rectale, and Roseburia, and decrease problematic Clostridium and Enterococcus species.


Polyphenols are also found exclusively in plant food and increase species of bacteria that provide anti-pathogenic and anti-inflammatory effects and cardiovascular protection. High fiber intake also encourages the growth of species that form short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Higher numbers of SCFAs bring many positive health effects, including strengthening immunity and the blood-brain barrier, providing energy for cells, and regulating intestinal function.


Do all vegans live longer?

Other than eschewing all animal products, there is no one kind of vegan diet. Studies have shown that the quality of plant-based foods affects how much health benefits are received from a vegan diet, with more nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, and legumes leading to greater benefits

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What do vegans die of?

Vegans can die of many of the same causes that vegetarians and meat-eaters do, although as the discussion above indicates, their risks for certain diseases — like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke — are low compared to the general population.


Is being vegan long-term healthy?

Long-term vegan diets are healthy and sustainable, but there are a few things individuals should be aware of. Because the food grown in industrial agriculture systems is produced in deficient soils, some micronutrients are missing and vegans may need to supplement these. A review study from 2021 noted that some vegans can be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, like selenium, vitamin B12, niacin, and calcium. In particular, vitamin B12 is important for vegans to supplement or include on their diets—by regularly consuming fortified cereals or plant-based milk, vegan meat, tempeh, nutritional yeast and other B12-rich foods.


However, the study also found that low micronutrient intake was not necessarily associated with any impaired function. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, vegans may need to supplement some micronutrients in addition to eating a well-rounded diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and healthy fats. Long-term, the health of vegans is generally good and is better than that of meat-eaters for certain diseases and conditions.


Conclusion

There are many factors that influence how long an individual lives, including genetics, environment, lifestyle, socioeconomic status, and access to education and medical care. Diet is just one element among all of these.


A vegan diet is no guarantee that you’ll live a long life or never become ill. It can lead to better health and protect against certain chronic diseases, but also confers other benefits, like knowing your meals don’t contribute to the suffering of billions of animals on factory farms. For many, veganism is an ethical choice that is made to reduce animal suffering and environmental degradation brought on by animal agriculture. And for some BIPOC populations, veganism is a means of decolonizing diets and returning to culturally meaningful foods.