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J Am Coll Nutr. 1992 Feb; 11(1): 50-5.

Vegetarians have higher plasma alpha-tocopherol relative to cholesterol than do nonvegetarians.

Pronczuk A, Kipervarg Y, Hayes KC.

Foster Biomedical Research Laboratory, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02254.

Biological antioxidants are thought to play a protective role in certain disease processes, including atherosclerosis. To compare the relative antioxidant/atherogenic risk between vegetarians (presumed lower risk) and omnivores (higher risk), the alpha-tocopherol, total cholesterol and fatty acid (FA) profiles were determined in the plasma of 79 vegetarians (28 males, 51 females) and 79 age- and sex-matched nonvegetarians. In the vegetarian group, mean (+/- SEM) plasma alpha-tocopherol was 714 +/- 46 micrograms/dl for males and 725 +/- 24 for females; corresponding cholesterol values were 122 +/- 5 mg/dl and 138 +/- 3, respectively, which were significantly lower than the respective control values (928 +/- 38; 883 +/- 23 and 206 +/- 6; 188 +/- 4). However, when plasma tocopherol was expressed in terms of cholesterol, the tocopherol: cholesterol molar ratio was significantly enhanced for both male (27%) and female (11%) vegetarians. Vegetarians also had a lower atherosclerosis risk based on their plasma FA profile (higher linoleic:oleic acid ratio) which correlated well (r = 0.72; p less than 0.001) with plasma alpha-tocopherol:cholesterol molar ratio. Since the bulk of tocopherol is transported in low-density lipoprotein, this lipoprotein in vegetarians may be better protected against lipid peroxidation, a process believed to be important in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis.

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