Your diet may predict the number of prescribed medications you take, a study finds. People who eat a vegan diet tend to consume nearly 60 percent fewer prescribed medications than people who eat a non-vegetarian diet.

Polypharmacy, the use of five or more prescribed drugs, is a common health issue with older adults. It is concerning because of the potential for adverse side effects and interactions among a person’s various medications. Studies have shown that people who take over five medications a day have roughly an 88 percent higher risk of adverse drug interactions resulting in longer, more expensive hospitalizations and high mortality rates.

People who ate a vegan diet consume nearly 60 percent fewer pills compared to non-vegetarians.

To get a clearer picture of the relationship between a senior’s diet and the number of medications they take, Loma Linda University Drayson Center researchers collected information from over 320 people who were 60 years of age or older.

In addition to questions about their diet and medications, the participants were asked about their activity level and presence of chronic health conditions. Each person’s BMI (body mass index) was calculated from their height and weight measurements.

Most of the people (57 percent) in the study ate meat, but about 22 percent were lacto-ovo vegetarians (no meat, but consuming eggs and dairy). Another 10.6 percent reported eating a pescatarians (eating no meat, but eating fish), and another 10.8 percent were vegan — eating no meat, dairy, eggs or fish.

People who followed a vegan diet took nearly 60 percent fewer pills compared to non-vegetarians. “Our results show that eating healthy, especially a vegan diet, may be protective in leading to a reduced number of pills taken,” the researchers write, “either by preventing the development of risk factors and/or cardiovascular disease or by helping on the controlling of such conditions.” Unsurprisingly, people who were older, had a higher BMI and/or chronic health conditions also used more medications.

Vegan diets are usually lower in calories and saturated fat and contain higher amounts of fiber and low glycemic index foods.

People who eat vegan diets have a lower risk of obesity, and have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels, which help prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease, so fewer medications are needed. Not all vegan diets are equally good, however. A diet featuring potato chips and pasta may be vegan, but it is not healthy.

The study is published in The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.