Dietary patterns with substantial proportions of energy from plant sources have been associated with favorable biomarkers of low-grade inflammation. Less is known of the relation between vegetarian-based dietary patterns and markers of inflammation and immune status. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to determine the relation between vegetarian-based dietary patterns and inflammatory and immune markers (C-reactive protein, tumour necrosis factor α, fibrinogen, natural killer cells, leukocytes, lymphocytes, thrombocytes, interleukins, and immunoglobulins). PubMed, Medline, and Cochrane scientific databases were searched to identify relevant studies. Random effects meta-analyses were conducted to assess the weighted mean differences (WMDs) for each outcome variable between vegetarian and non-vegetarian groups. Thirty observational and 10 intervention studies were included in the review. Pooled effects of vegetarian-based dietary patterns were associated with significantly lower concentrations of CRP (WMD: -0.61 mg/L; 95% CI: -0.91, -0.32 mg/L; P = 0.0001), fibrinogen (WMD: -0.22 g/L; 95% CI: -0.41, -0.04 mg/L; P = 0.02), and total leukocyte (WMD: -0.62 × 10(3)/μL; 95% CI -1.13 × 10(3), -0.10 × 10(3)/μL; P = 0.02) compared with those following non-vegetarian dietary patterns in observational studies. Insufficient data were identified for a meta-analysis of intervention studies. This study provides evidence that vegetarian-based dietary patterns are associated with lowered serum C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, and total leukocyte concentrations. Future research should focus on large-scale intervention trials, contrasting differences in inflammation and immune status and function between vegetarian and non-vegetarian-based populations.
Keywords: CRP; IL-6; diet; dietary patterns; immune function; inflammation; meta-analysis; systematic review; vegan; vegetarian.
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