Older vegans require fewer medications, study says

According to a recent study, older adults who follow vegan diets require fewer medications than those who eat meat.

Alex Smolokoff, Editorial coordinator

November 10, 2021

3 Min Read
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There are many reasons consumers may choose to follow a vegan diet: concern for animal welfare, environmental impact, and general health and wellness, to name a few. A recent study, published online in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, indicates that last point—health and wellness—may have some concrete data to back it (Oct 2021).

The study sought to examine the relationship between diet and later medication needs; specifically, the authors wanted to see if following a vegan diet led to fewer prescription medications later in life. The authors studied data from 328 participants aged 60 or older through the collection of questionnaires and measurements at Loma Linda University Drayson Center in Loma Linda, CA, between 2015 and 2016.

The results showed not only that vegan eaters required fewer medications than meat-eaters (even when considering covariates), but that the number was significantly reduced. Vegans, on average, required 58% fewer prescription medications than meat-eaters. Vegetarians also ended up needing fewer medications than meat-eaters, though more than vegans.

According to the authors, “increases in age, body mass index (BMI), and presence of disease suggest an increased number of pills taken. A vegan diet showed the lowest amount of pills in this sample.”

Expanding on these findings, the authors noted, “Our results show that eating healthy, especially a vegan diet, may be protective in leading to a reduced number of pills taken, either by preventing the development of risk factors and/or cardiovascular disease or by helping on the controlling of such conditions.”

Requiring fewer medications later in life is not only an indicator of better overall health, but also lowers risks associated with polypharmacy, defined by the authors as taking five or more prescribed medications. The authors note in their study that polypharmacy “[carries] an 88% higher risk of adverse drug events as well as higher mortality rates.”

Food & Beverage Insider insights

Vegan eating has increased significantly over the last two decades, even if the overall percentage of consumers who follow vegan diets is relatively low; according to Vegan News, the number of Americans following a strictly plant-based diet increased by 9.6 million people over the last 15 years, a 300% increase. While that still represents just 3% of the population, it is clear vegan eating is on the rise.

Also on the rise is flexitarian eating—those consumers who wish to incorporate more plant-based food and beverage into their dets, even if they are also willing to eat animal-based foods as well. Perhaps this is why, according to Innova Insights data, the use of plant-based claims for global food and beverage launches had a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 37% from 2016 to 2020.

The health halo of plant-based food and beverage is also increasingly working in its favor. Another recent report out of Europe indicated vegetarian eaters had healthier biomarkers than meat-eaters.

As consumers continue to take their overall health and wellness more seriously, plant-based eating should only see further demand. Continued education about the benefits of such a diet, including studies like the above, should only increase that demand.

About the Author(s)

Alex Smolokoff

Editorial coordinator, Informa

After a career in sportswriting, Alex Smolokoff was on the editorial team at Informa Markets from December 2018 through spring of 2022, working on Food & Beverage Insider. In his free time, he enjoys watching his hometown Boston sports teams.   

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