Preliminary evidence for reduced adipose tissue inflammation in vegetarians compared with omnivores

Maria E. Morgan-Bathke, Michael D. Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: There are links between obesity and inflammation that may relate activation of pro-inflammatory pathways by dietary factors. Because dietary fat intake of vegetarians is thought to be more beneficial than that of omnivores, we hypothesized that obese vegetarians would have less adipose tissue inflammation and lower intramyocellular ceramide concentrations than equally obese omnivores. Methods: Eight obese vegetarian (1 male) and 8 obese omnivore volunteers (1 male) completed a Food Frequency Questionnaire, underwent body composition measures, subcutaneous adipose tissue and muscle biopsies. We used immunohistochemistry to measure adipose macrophage (ATM) and senescent cells. Plasma free fatty acid (FFA), adipose FA and muscle ceramide profiles were measured using liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry. Student t tests were used for the comparison of primary outcomes; univariate regression analysis was used to test for associations between dietary patterns and ATMs (secondary analysis). Results: There were no differences in age (38 ± 8 vs. 39 ± 8 years), BMI (32.2 ± 2.6 vs. 33.3 ± 1.9 kg/m2) or percent body fat (44 ± 8 vs. 45 ± 4) between the vegetarians and omnivores. Vegetarians consumed 42% (P = 0.02) less saturated fat and 50% (P = 0.04) less cholesterol than the omnivores. Plasma FFA of vegetarians had lesser proportions of palmitic acid (24 ± 3 vs. 29 ± 4%, P = 0.02) and vegetarians had fewer femoral pro-inflammatory ATMs than omnivores (3.6 ± 2.8 vs. 7.9 ± 4.4 per 100 adipocytes, respectively; P = 0.02). Omnivores had 50% greater (P = 0.01) expression of TNF mRNA in abdominal fat. We found no significant between group differences in muscle ceramide concentrations. Conclusions: Although the sample size is small, these results may indicate that dietary patterns play a role in adipose tissue inflammation, as reflected by reduced number of femoral ATMs in obese vegetarians than obese omnivores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number45
JournalNutrition Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 12 2019


  • Adipocytes
  • Fatty acids
  • Intramyocellular ceramides
  • Macrophages
  • Obesity
  • TNF

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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