Are Long-Term Vegetarians More Likely to Get Cancer Than Meat Eaters?

Sustained vegetarianism is linked to genetic mutations, increasing the risk of cancer and heart disease.

A lifetime of eating vegetarian can lead to a heightened risk of cancer and heart disease, according to a new study.

In the study, Cornell University researchers compared genomes from primarily vegetarian populations in Pune, India, to genomes from meat-eaters in Kansas. They found the genetic difference to be quite profound, The Telegraph reported.

"Those whose ancestry derives from vegetarians are more likely to carry genetics that more rapidly metabolize plant fatty acids," said Tom Brenna, a professor of Human Nutrition from Cornell.

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That means vegetable oils are converted to "the more pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid," Brenna told the paper, making it easier to develop chronic inflammation, which leads to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.

The mutation also makes it more difficult for the body to produce Omega 3 fatty acid, which protects against heart disease, further increasing the risk.

But if lowering the risk of cancer means switching to a carnivorous diet, there are some vegetarians that just couldn't do it. Vegetarianism is strongly linked with Hinduism, which teaches the practice of compassion for all living things and the implications for karma when causing harm to others, including animals.

As author Gadadhara Pandit Dasa wrote for the Huffington Post about his decision to be vegetarian as a Hindu, "I had started exploring the spiritual direction I wanted to take for my life and the teachings of the Gita and the meditation practice I had adopted inspired me to incorporate a more compassionate diet, where others wouldn't have to get brutalized simply for the satisfaction of my tongue."