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Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Sep 12;9(1):226. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0552-0.

The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: a systematic review.

Author information

1
Department of Neurology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany. medawar@cbs.mpg.de.
2
Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany. medawar@cbs.mpg.de.
3
Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany. medawar@cbs.mpg.de.
4
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH-UFZ, Leipzig, Germany.
5
Department of Neurology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.
6
Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
7
Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Abstract

Western societies notice an increasing interest in plant-based eating patterns such as vegetarian and vegan, yet potential effects on the body and brain are a matter of debate. Therefore, we systematically reviewed existing human interventional studies on putative effects of a plant-based diet on the metabolism and cognition, and what is known about the underlying mechanisms. Using the search terms "plant-based OR vegan OR vegetarian AND diet AND intervention" in PubMed filtered for clinical trials in humans retrieved 205 studies out of which 27, plus an additional search extending the selection to another five studies, were eligible for inclusion based on three independent ratings. We found robust evidence for short- to moderate-term beneficial effects of plant-based diets versus conventional diets (duration ≤ 24 months) on weight status, energy metabolism and systemic inflammation in healthy participants, obese and type-2 diabetes patients. Initial experimental studies proposed novel microbiome-related pathways, by which plant-based diets modulate the gut microbiome towards a favorable diversity of bacteria species, yet a functional "bottom up" signaling of plant-based diet-induced microbial changes remains highly speculative. In addition, little is known, based on interventional studies about cognitive effects linked to plant-based diets. Thus, a causal impact of plant-based diets on cognitive functions, mental and neurological health and respective underlying mechanisms has yet to be demonstrated. In sum, the increasing interest for plant-based diets raises the opportunity for developing novel preventive and therapeutic strategies against obesity, eating disorders and related comorbidities. Still, putative effects of plant-based diets on brain health and cognitive functions as well as the underlying mechanisms remain largely unexplored and new studies need to address these questions.

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