New study: a plant-based diet has an effect on your cholesterol level

​The hitherto largest study to investigate the effect of vegetarian and vegan diets shows that it is possible to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol levels by up to 14 per cent by eating plant-based foods. A plant-based diet throughout life can reduce the risk of blood clots in the heart considerably. 

A new study has collated all clinical randomized controlled trials to test vegetarian and vegan diets against typical diets and calculated an overall estimate of the effect on cholesterol. The results have just been published in one of the world's leading heart journals: European Heart Journal. 

Caroline Amalie Koch, medical student, Emilie Westerlin Kjeldsen, MD and PhD student and Professor Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, consultant from the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Copenhagen University Hospital – Rigshospitalet and the Department of Clinical Medicine at the University of Copenhagen carried out the study. They can see great perspectives in the results.

"We’ve found that vegetarian and vegan diets cause a 14 per cent reduction in ‘bad’ cholesterol, corresponding to one-third of the effect of taking cholesterol-reducing medicine. For example, starting a plant-based diet in your early 40s corresponds to reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease by approximately 20 per cent when you reach your mid-50s. This is a significant reduction, and it could have a great impact on public health, both locally and globally,” said Caroline Amalie Koch. 

Worldwide effect

The study has also examined whether there is a difference in results across different parts of the world. 

"One of the major findings of the study was that the impact of vegan and vegetarian diets on the ‘bad’ cholesterol was the same in the different global regions, and independent of age and health status," says Emilie Westerlin Kjeldsen.

“The new results come at an important time,” stresses Ruth Frikke-Schmidt.

"New data from the World Health Organization, WHO indicate that cardiovascular disease is increasing in high-, middle- and low-income countries. After a long period in which the incidence of cardiovascular disease has been falling in high-income countries, now it’s rising again." 

She points out that there is an immediate need for ambitious and early prevention at population level, and a plant-based diet implemented broadly could be a very important element.

“Cholesterol-reducing medicine is more effective than a plant-based diet, and if a physician has prescribed cholesterol-lowering medicine, it is very important that people take it. A healthy, plant-based diet that follows the national dietary guidelines and recommendations from the patient association is an important supplement for groups of patients,” says Ruth Frikke-Schmidt.

Help health and the climate

National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark has calculated that the climate footprint of diet can be reduced by 20-35 per cent by reducing the quantity of foods of animal origin or 45-50% by changing to vegan diets. 

“A plant-based diet is therefore crucial in making our food production more sustainable, while also reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The national Official Dietary Guidelines for ages between 6 and 65 years recommend that we should eat plant-rich and varied food, and not too much, and we should quench our thirst with water,” adds Caroline Amalie Koch.

Link to the Official Dietary Guidelines 

See the article in European Heart Register here

See the editorial in European Heart Register here​

For more information, please contact: 

Professor Ruth Frikke-Schmidt on mobile +45 22812081 or mail

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