Study validates that plant-based diets reduces risk of heart issues and cancer
Study validates that plant-based diets reduces risk of heart issues and cancerLegacy

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and cancer are the leading causes of death and disability worldwide, making the search for effective preventive measures a high priority. A growing body of research suggests that plant-based diets, which exclude or minimise animal products, may offer significant health benefits, particularly in reducing the risks associated with these diseases. This article delves into a comprehensive umbrella review study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, which examines the impact of plant-based diets on the risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases and cancer, providing a holistic view of their potential benefits and limitations.

The growing popularity of plant-based diets

The adoption of plant-based diets has been on the rise, driven by concerns over health, the environment, and animal welfare. These diets include variations such as veganism, ovo-vegetarianism, lacto-vegetarianism, and lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, all of which emphasise the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains while excluding or limiting animal products.

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Health professionals have increasingly recommended plant-based diets as a means to manage and prevent metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and atherosclerosis. Additionally, the ethical treatment of animals and environmental sustainability have become significant motivators for many individuals to transition to plant-based eating patterns. The socio-economic implications also play a role, as plant-based diets can be more cost-effective and accessible in many parts of the world.

Health implications and research challenges

Despite the apparent benefits, assessing the efficacy of plant-based diets has been challenging due to the significant heterogeneity in study designs, populations, and outcomes. This variability makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the health benefits of these diets. However, the umbrella review conducted by researchers from the University of Bologna, the University of Cambridge, and Stanford University School of Medicine aimed to provide a comprehensive assessment of the available evidence.

Study design and methodology

The umbrella review analysed numerous systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and other research studies that investigated the effects of plant-based diets on cardiometabolic diseases and cancer. The review included studies involving participants of all ages, genders, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses, and geographical origins to provide an all-encompassing perspective.

Study validates that plant-based diets reduces risk of heart issues and cancer | News by Thaiger
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Data extracted from the included studies covered a wide range of clinical measurements such as triglyceride levels, cholesterol levels (total, LDL, and HDL), C-reactive protein, apolipoprotein B, body weight, body mass index (BMI), glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c), fasting blood glucose, and blood pressure (systolic and diastolic). Additionally, information on the risks and types of cardiac events, gestational diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and mortality was obtained.

Key Findings

The review found that plant-based diets were associated with significant improvements in various health markers:

  • Lipid profiles and glycemic control: Vegan and vegetarian diets were linked to lower levels of LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, HbA1c, and fasting blood glucose compared to omnivorous diets. These diets also showed potential in lowering inflammation, as indicated by reduced serum levels of C-reactive protein.
  • Body weight and BMI: Individuals following plant-based diets generally had lower body weight and BMI compared to those on omnivorous diets, suggesting a beneficial effect on weight management.
  • Cardiovascular health: The risk of cardiovascular disease-associated mortality was found to be lower among individuals following vegetarian diets. Improvements in glycemic control, lipid profiles, and reduced inflammation contributed to a lower risk of ischemic heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions.
  • Cancer risk: Plant-based diets were associated with a lower risk of cancer, particularly gastrointestinal tract-related cancers. The review highlighted that diets high in processed red meats were linked to an increased risk of gastrointestinal cancers, while the consumption of whole grains and other plant-based foods could potentially lower the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Pregnancy outcomes: Interestingly, the review found no significant association between vegetarian diets and the risk of gestational hypertension or diabetes among pregnant women, suggesting that plant-based diets do not adversely affect pregnancy outcomes.

Limitations and considerations

Despite the promising findings, the review also noted several limitations:

  • Heterogeneity: The substantial heterogeneity in study characteristics, including differences in dietary patterns, study designs, and population demographics, makes it challenging to generalise the results.
  • Lifestyle factors: Many individuals following plant-based diets also engage in other healthy lifestyle choices, such as avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and sugary foods, and exercising regularly. These factors may confound the observed health benefits of plant-based diets.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Plant-based diets, particularly more restrictive forms like veganism, can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, which may require supplementation.

A cautious optimism

This umbrella study review underscores the potential health benefits of plant-based diets in reducing the risks of cardiometabolic diseases and cancer. These diets appear to improve lipid profiles, glycemic control, body weight, and inflammation, contributing to a lower risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Study validates that plant-based diets reduces risk of heart issues and cancer | News by Thaiger
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However, given the high heterogeneity in study designs and populations, the researchers advise caution in broadly recommending plant-based diets. While these diets offer significant health benefits, they should be balanced and well-planned to avoid potential nutritional deficiencies. Further research is needed to refine our understanding of the specific mechanisms through which plant-based diets influence health and to identify the best practices for implementing these diets in diverse populations.

Adopting a plant-based diet can be a powerful strategy for improving health and reducing the risk of serious diseases. As with any dietary change, it is essential to consider individual nutritional needs and lifestyle factors to maximise the benefits and ensure overall well-being. You can consult and find out which vitamins are missing and what you should eat to replenish them with Medijump.

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Author: Dr. Nikhil Prasad