Cardiovascular diseases, still the leading cause of mortality in the world, are closely related to vascular function. Older subjects are more susceptible to endothelial dysfunction and therefore it is important to define possible preventive or support strategies, such as consumption of foods with health-promoting effects. This systematic review aims to summarize the currently available evidence on acute or chronic trials testing the effect of selected plant-based foods on vascular function parameters in older subjects, and consider plausible mechanisms that may support the main findings. A total of 15 trials were included and analyzed, testing the effects of beetroot, plum, blueberry, and vegetable oils. We found some interesting results regarding markers of vascular reactivity, in particular for beetroot, while no effects were found for markers of arterial stiffness. The amelioration of vascular function seems to be more related to the restoration of a condition of nitric oxide impairment, exacerbated by diseases or hypoxic condition, rather than the enhancement of a physiological situation, as indicated by the limited effects on healthy older subjects or in control groups with young subjects. However, the overall set of selected studies is, in any case, rather limited and heterogeneous in terms of characteristics of the studies, indicating the need for additional high-quality intervention trials to better clarify the role of vegetable foods in restoring and/or improving vascular function in order to better elucidate the mechanisms through which these foods may exert their vascular health benefits in older subjects.
Keywords: aging; dietary intervention; endothelial function; intervention studies; nitric oxide; plant-based foods; systematic review; vascular function; vegetable foods.