The Effect of the Mediterranean Diet on Metabolic Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials in Adults

Nutrients. 2020 Oct 30;12(11):3342. doi: 10.3390/nu12113342.


The Mediterranean diet (MD) may provide metabolic benefits but no systematic review to date has examined its effect on a multitude of outcomes related to metabolic health. This systematic review with meta-analysis (International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews, PROSPERO; number CRD42019141459) aimed to examine the MD's effect on metabolic syndrome (MetSyn) incidence, components and risk factors (primary outcomes), and incidence and/or mortality from MetSyn-related comorbidities and receipt of pharmacologic treatment for MetSyn components and comorbidities (secondary outcomes). We searched Pubmed, Embase, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), and Web of Science for controlled trials published until June 2019, comparing the MD with no treatment, usual care, or different diets in adults. Studies not published in English and not promoting the whole MD were excluded. Two authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias using the Cochrane Collaboration's and Risk of Bias in non-randomised studies (ROBINS-I) tools. Reporting followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Random-effects meta-analyses, subgroup analyses and meta-regressions were performed, and heterogeneity was quantified using the I2 statistic. We identified 2654 reports and included 84 articles reporting 57 trials (n = 36,983). In random effects meta-analyses, the MD resulted in greater beneficial changes in 18 of 28 MetSyn components and risk factors (body weight, body mass index, waist circumference, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, glucose, insulin, homeostatic model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) index, total-, low-density lipoprotein (LDL)- and high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol, triglycerides, alanine transaminase, hepatic fat mass, C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, tumour necrosis factor-a, and flow-mediated dilatation) and lower risk of cardiovascular disease incidence (risk ratio (RR) = 0.61, 95% confidence intervals (CI) 0.42-0.80; I2 = 0%), and stroke (RR = 0.67, 95% CI 0.35-0.98; I2 = 0%). Only six studies reported effects on pharmacotherapy use, and pooled analysis indicated no differences between diet groups. Lack of consistency in comparator groups and other study characteristics across studies resulted in high heterogeneity for some outcomes, which could not be considerably explained by meta-regressions. However, a consistent direction of beneficial effect of the MD was observed for the vast majority of outcomes examined. Findings support MD's beneficial effect on all components and most risk factors of the MetSyn, in addition to cardiovascular disease and stroke incidence. More studies are needed to establish effects on other clinical outcomes and use of pharmacotherapy for MetSyn components and comorbidities. Despite the high levels of heterogeneity for some outcomes, this meta-analysis enabled the comparison of findings across studies and the examination of consistency of effects. The consistent direction of effect, suggesting the MD's benefits on metabolic health, supports the need to promote this dietary pattern to adult populations.

Keywords: Mediterranean diet; comorbidities; controlled trials; meta-analysis; metabolic syndrome; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Blood Pressure
  • Comorbidity
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Metabolic Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Metabolic Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Risk Factors


  • Biomarkers