Adapted from Dr. Fuhrman's book Disease Proof Your Child:
Although a low-saturated-fat vegan diet may markedly reduce risk for coronary heart disease, diabetes, and many common cancers, the real Achilles' heel of the low-fat vegan diet is the increased risk of hemorrhagic (vessel rupture leading to bleeding) stroke at a late age. Apparently the atherosclerotic (plaque-building) process that creates a local intravascular embolism (traveling clot) may be protecting the fragile blood vessels in the brain from rupture under years of stress from high blood pressure. Admittedly, hemorrhagic stroke causes a very small percentage of deaths in modern countries. It still is worth nothing that if strict vegetarians are to have the potential to maximize their lifespan, it is even more important for them to avoid a high salt intake because salt intake increases blood pressure. Almost all of the soy-based meat analogues and many other health food store (vegan) products are exceptionally high in sodium.
A number of studies both in Japan (where the high-salt had made stroke a leading cause of death) and in the West have illustrated that fewer animal products and a low serum cholesterol were associated with increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke.1 Keep in mind, stoke mortality is significantly higher in Japan and exceptionally high in certain areas of China where salt intake is high, in spite of low-fat diets. It is also well established that Third World countries that do no salt their food are virtually immune to hypertension, the age-related rise in blood pressure we see in 90 percent of Americans, and they are immune to the incidence of strokes.
The high salt ? high blood pressure ? stroke causation chain may be more likely a late-life event in a vegetarian successfully maintaining excellent heart health. So avoiding excess sodium may be even more important for a vegetarian than for an omnivore. Of course, excess sodium increases both heart attack and stroke death in all diet styles, but in a vegan, the high-salt diet is even more likely to rear its ugly head as a cause of late-life morbidity and mortality, especially since they will often live longer and not have a heart attack first.
1. Gillman MW, Cuples LA, Millen BE, et al. Inverse association of dietary fat with development of ischeimic stroke in men. JAMA 1997;278:2145-2150. Iso HM, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, et al. Prospective study of fat and protein intake and risk of intraparenchymal hemorrhage in women. Circulation 2001;103:856. Sasaki S, Zhang XH, Kestleloot H. Dietary sodium, potassium, saturated fat, alcohol and stroke mortality. Stroke 1995;26(5)783-789.