LONDON, June 28 (Reuters) - Vegetarians may have a lower risk
of heart disease and bowel cancer than meat and fish eaters because of
an acid found in fruit and vegetables, Scottish scientists said on Thursday.
Like people taking low-dose aspirin to prevent heart attacks vegetarians
have lots of salicylic acid, aspirin's main anti-inflammatory component,
in their blood.
Dr John Paterson, a chemical pathologist at the Dumfries and Galloway
Royal Infirmary in Scotland believes salicylic acid could protect vegetarians
from heart disease and cancer just as it protects people taking aspirin.
"Studies have shown that if you eat fruits and vegetables you have a
lower risk of heart disease, strokes and cancer. Part of the reason to
explain that lower risk could be salicylic acid," Paterson said in a telephone
There may be other compounds that also help, he added, but none of them
have been proven to have this impact.
Paterson and his team developed a method to measure the levels of salicylic
acid in blood. They compared levels in 37 vegetarian Buddhist monks, 39
meat and fish eaters and 14 diabetes patients taking low-dose aspirin.
Their research is published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology.
The researchers discovered that vegetarians had levels of salicylic
acid 12 times higher than the meat and fish eaters, but lower than the
diabetics taking 75 mg of aspirin a day.
"These findings may explain in part the health promoting effects of
dietary fruits and vegetables," the researchers said in the journal.
Paterson said fruits and vegetables did not have the anti-clotting properties
of aspirin but the salicylic acid reduced inflammation.
They believe it is beneficial because heart disease is caused by a narrowing
and hardening of the arteries, which is a chronic inflammatory disease
Even low levels of dietary salicylic acid may interfere with enzymes
that increase inflammation, which could also explain why a diet high in
fruits and vegetables may protect against bowel cancer.
Many fruits and vegetables contain salicylic acid but the scientists
said herbs and spices have the greatest concentrations.
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