Prospective studies have shown differences in some disease risks between vegetarians and nonvegetarians, but the potential biological pathways are not well understood.
We aimed to assess differences in concentrations of biomarkers related to disease pathways in people with varying degrees of animal foods exclusion.
The UK Biobank recruited 500,000 participants aged 40–69 y (54.4% women) throughout the United Kingdom in 2006–2010. Blood and urine were collected at recruitment and assayed for more than 30 biomarkers related to cardiovascular diseases, bone and joint health, cancer, diabetes, renal disease, and liver health. In cross-sectional analyses, we estimated adjusted geometric means of these biomarkers by 6 diet groups (regular meat eaters, low meat eaters, poultry eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, vegans) in 466,058 white British participants and 2 diet groups (meat eaters, vegetarians) in 5535 British Indian participants.
We observed differences in the concentrations of most biomarkers, with many biomarkers showing a gradient effect from meat eaters to vegetarians/vegans. Of the largest differences, compared with white British regular meat eaters, white British vegans had lower C-reactive protein [adjusted geometric mean (95% CI): 1.13 (1.03, 1.25) compared with 1.43 (1.42, 1.43) mg/L], lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol [3.13 (3.07, 3.20) compared with 3.65 (3.65, 3.65) mmol/L], lower vitamin D [34.4 (33.1, 35.9) compared with 44.5 (44.4, 44.5) nmol/L], lower serum urea [4.21 (4.11, 4.30) compared with 5.36 (5.36, 5.37) mmol/L], lower urinary creatinine [5440 (5120, 5770) compared with 7280 (7260, 7300) μmol/L], and lower γ-glutamyltransferase [23.5 (22.2, 24.8) compared with 29.6 (29.6, 29.7) U/L]. Patterns were mostly similar in British Indians, and results were consistent between women and men.
The observed differences in biomarker concentrations, including lower C-reactive protein, lower LDL cholesterol, lower vitamin D, lower creatinine, and lower γ-glutamyltransferase, in vegetarians and vegans may relate to differences in future disease risk.