Do Vegans Live Longer?

The internet is full of claims of individuals living longer because of some diet, lifestyle, or supplement living longer.  So let us start with this disclaimer:

Anyone who gives absolute statements about one person living longer because they only drink Yak milk, or eat raw foods, or are a vegan, or a pescetarian, or eat raw lion meat – etc. – are making an opinion, not based on data.

The classic example is studies done on Seventh Day Adventists in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarians by choice. They also do not drink alcohol, and they do not smoke tobacco.  Their lifespan was longer when compared to non-vegetarians. However, the study did not adjust for variables such as smoking, alcohol, lower body mass index, and what is called the “healthy volunteer effect.”

In 1999 a metastudy combined data from five western countries and reported mortality ratios.  This broad study showed fish eaters (pescetarians) had a the lowest ratio of 0.82, followed by vegetarians at 0.84.  Occasional meat eaters were at 0.84 and vegans as well as regular meat eaters had a ratio of 1.0.  (The lower the number the longer the lifespan.) – American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol 70 (3): 516S-524S – September 1999.

Fish eaters seem to live the longest

One of the most commonly cited studies is the “China Project” where blood samples were pooled from 65 rural counties in China.  Their conclusion was that meat eaters lived less long than those who ate animal proteins.  However, analysis of the raw data from that study leads to the opposite conclusion.  Ultimately the China Study became a best selling book. The books conclusions are the opinions of the author T Collin Campbell, many of those opinions have been refuted by peer-reviewed papers based on the raw data in the study.  One study example came from examination of the stomach cancer data showing that there was an inverse correlation between meat and stomach cancer.  Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 1992, 1: 113-118.

Recently reported was the risk of meat consumption and colorectal cancers. Previous studies have been inconsistent so a metastudy was performed and there was an increase in risk of colo-rectal cancers with increased consumption of meat—however, this was “processed” meat- defined as cured or nitrate, or sausages.  The study did not adjust for other dietary habits, lifestyle, or genetic factors.  It should be noted that nitrate cured meats have higher associations with stomach and colo-rectal cancers. However, that is in dispute. There are chemical differences between them. We talk about the meat study in two places here and here.

Processed meats may or may not increase risk of colo-rectal cancer

Population studies are flawed, and sometimes, the author’s conclusions may not agree with the raw data. There is not clear evidence that one dietary lifestyle is going to significantly increase lifespan if one does not include obesity, smoking, or consumption of fish.

Veganism, a movement that started in 1944, has not shown an increase in lifespan, as much as it has sprouted numerous websites, followers, and books that proclaim such.

While there are thousands of internet sites concluding that vegans live much longer- there is no scientific study that agrees with that conclusion. What conclusion can you come to? Probably that eating fish is a good thing- eating too much processed food may not be a good thing. Best to pick great parents, don’t overeat, and a bit of red wine and chocolate are not bad things.

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, a renowned weight loss surgeon, is a leading advocate of culinary medicine. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.

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Comments

  1. halloa says

    “Their conclusion was that meat eaters lived less long than those who ate animal proteins.”

    I … am confused by this sentence.

  2. mieroslav says

    Hi I just found your site. Hope to learn something here.
    I am a vegan (rarely eating something with milk protein). I do it for ethical reasons. I am also a sceptic and science enthusiast, so I am always greatful to find a good debate on the science of nutrition.

  3. The Doc says

    One of my favorite shirts on Bravo TV’s Top Chef read, “I eat Vegans.” That is humor, and let me state that I greatly respect the position of individuals who have concerns regarding animals and their welfare. I also like to approach the topic with humor, so please forgive my irreverence.

  4. steller says

    There is nothing funny about “I eat Vegans.” I have to wonder why the generally low IQ population would find something like that finny. Disgusting.

  5. thedoc says

    Other than bathroom humor that 7th grade goes through, humor shows a high IQ. Cows are vegan, sheep are vegan- most people don’t eat animals that are not vegans. It is a rather clever play on words – what tickles one person does not strike another. Sorry I had to explain their play on words

  6. Michael says

    Hi Doc! Lately I’ve been wondering if there’s a difference between the meat some people used to eat versus today.
    Specifically, would eating buffalo, or American Bison to be scientific about it, be better for you than eating pork and beef? The mountain men and Indians of old days ate very lean meats like buffalo and rabbit and fish, compared to some of the farmers who ate pig and cow…. and I would think because of the diet the mountain men and Indians would be a lot healthier. Anything on this? Thoughts? Thank you.

  7. thedoc says

    Ever wonder why we think the diets of old were healthier? The people didn’t live long enough to get heart disease or cancer (most of the time). But there are some differences: (a) most animals in the United States are raised in feed lots and not on a range. (b) as a result the fat composition of the food is different- cows that are corn fed are fatter than cows that are grain fed. (c) Same with pigs, chicken, and sheep.
    In Canada most beef, pork, chicken – are all raised on small farms, found to graze on grass – and they taste different.
    So there is evidence that these grass fed animals are tastier, and healthier than the ones we get today. So I encourage you to eat more grass fed and less grain fed animals.

  8. Chris says

    The china study was never debunked by anyone in the scientific realm. Everyone should go to Don Matesz blog and read “farewell to paleo.” Eating free rane eggs and graas-fed beef he had very high LDL cholesterol and xanthomas on his face.

    He switched to plant-based diet, like T. Colin Campbell suggest, and his numbers got better—lipid profile is on his blog for evidence. People love it when a chubby doctor tells them it’s okay to eat a lot of fat. Irresponsible.

  9. thedoc says

    The China Study has been debunked by many. Nice that people get better eating better- but it is not a cure.
    High LDL and cholesterol is not from diet, but from what the liver produces. You make LDL, you do not eat it and it gets into the bloodstream. The xanthomas on the face are a sign of a genetic disease of hyperlipidemia or other metabolic diseases, or liver issues.
    Science does not live by anecdotes, of what one person puts on a blog- but by evidence based and science based medicine. So, your buddy Matesz may be happy eating raw foods- many are, but it is not a cure.
    IN terms of eating fat- we need it- we do not make omega 3 fatty acids and have to get that from our diet. If we don’t we die.

  10. Gegsie says

    Wow, maybe this young man had Lynch Syndrome. Did anyone take family history in those days?
    Why not do an article on ” knowing your family’s history of disease.”. ( not only of cancer,)

  11. thedoc says

    Will do that – although I have a pile of articles to write- but my wife wants me to spend time with her and my son… Ok- wife and son win-

  12. Connie Drake says

    I think the meat under the celophane in the market is so hormone and antibiotic jacked up that it really isn’t much better than a hot dog. If anitbiotics destroy the good bacteria in the digestive system, why wouldin’t antibiotic filled meat be a problem with weight loss?

  13. thedoc says

    First, if the meat is cooked, then you won’t have hormones that are bioactive. Second, the heat also destroys the bacteria and the antibiotics.

  14. hart2hart says

    Yes it is.
    See, I just did what you did. Expressed my opinion on a very subjective topic – humor.

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