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Eat Your Heart Out!

A vegetarian diet has been shown to help reduce the risk of blood clots.

By Vicki T. Hyatt

If you want to avoid heart disease, then you may want to follow the lead of Buddhist monks and go vegetarian. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Pathology (June 2001) indicated that a vegetarian diet offers added protection from coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. The finding also helps solidify the notion that aspirin can help prevent heart attacks by reducing blood clotting.

In the study, blood samples were taken from three groups of people: vegetarian Buddhist monks, nonvegetarian subjects, and nonvegetarians taking 75mg of aspirin daily. The vegetarian Buddhist monks showed higher blood levels of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, than the nonvegetarian subjects who were not taking aspirin. The enlightening study also showed an overlap in the salicylic acid levels in the vegetarians and nonvegetarians taking aspirin daily.

Aspirin is commonly prescribed by physicians as an antiplatelet medication to improve blood flow through the arteries. In fact, new research has just found that adults suspected of having heart disease could lower their risk of dying by 33 percent by taking aspirin regularly—about one tablet daily or every other day.

John Paterson, M.D., a member of the group from the Royal Infirmary in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, who led the monks study, says the vegetarian monks did not favor any particular fruit or vegetable in their diets, only "they had a fairly spartan diet with one main meal a day." Paterson also suspects that because of the monks' limited diet, the salicylic acid levels of average vegetarians may be even greater than what the study found.

But Paterson, who authored the study, also points out that eating foods high in salicylic acid does not necessarily offer all the cardiac benefits of taking aspirin. "Aspirin helps block the formation of blood clots, while fruits and vegetables do not," says Paterson. "Yet salicylic acid—whatever the source—does work to reduce inflammation that can lead to hardening and narrowing of the arteries."

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