Plant-Based Diet May Lower Risk of Heart Disease, Researchers Say


High sulfur amino acid intake was associated with every type of food except grains, vegetables, and fruit.

While it is well-understood that diets restricting sulfur amino acids benefited longevity in animals, new study findings suggest that excessive intake of sulfur amino acids in humans may be related to chronic disease outcomes in humans.1

Sulfur amino acids are a subcategory of amino acids, and include methionine and cysteine. These acids play various roles in metabolism and general health.2

Using data from the Third National Examination and Nutritional Health Survey, a team at Penn State University compiled a composite cardiometabolic disease risk score based on the levels of certain biomarkers in participants’ blood after a 10- to 16-hour fast. The score included data for cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and insulin.1

Participants who self-reported having congestive heart failure, heart attack, or a reported change in diet due to a heart disease diagnosis were excluded. Participants were also omitted if they reported a dietary intake of sulfur amino acids below the estimated average requirement of 15 mg/kg/day.1

Nutritionists performed in-person 24-hour recalls to collect information about participants’ diets, and then calculated nutrient intakes using the US Department of Agriculture Survey Nutrient Database.1

After adjusting for body weight, the investigators found that average sulfur amino acid intake was almost 2.5 times higher than the estimated average requirement. This may be attributable to diets rich in meat and dairy products, common in the United States.1

“Therefore, it is not surprising that many are surpassing the average requirements when considering these foods contain higher amounts of sulfur amino acids,” said Xiang Gao, MD, PhD, in a statement.2

This higher intake was associated with a higher composite cardiometabolic risk score after accounting for potential cofounders like age, sex, and history of diabetes and hypertension, according to the investigators. They also noted that high sulfur amino acid intake was associated with every type of food except grains, vegetables, and fruit.1

While the study is limited because it only evaluated dietary intake and cardiometabolic disease risk factors at 1 point in time, the authors said the data support the formation of a prospective, longitudinal study evaluating sulfur amino acid intake and health outcomes over time.1


  1. Dong Z, Gao X, Chinchilli V, Sinha R, et al. Association of sulfur amino acid consumption with cardiometabolic risk factors: Cross-sectional findings from NHANES III.EClinical Medicine;Feb 3, 2020. Accessed Feb 5, 2020.
  2. Lower protein diet may lessen risk for cardiovascular disease [news release]. Penn State website; Feb 3, 2020. Accessed Feb 5, 2020.

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