Plant-based dietary patterns defined by a priori indices and colorectal cancer risk by sex and race/ethnicity: the Multiethnic Cohort Study

BMC Med. 2022 Nov 29;20(1):430. doi: 10.1186/s12916-022-02623-7.


Background: Plant-based diets assessed by a priori indices are associated with health outcomes. This study investigated the associations between pre-defined indices of plant-based diets and risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) and evaluated whether the association varies by sex, race and ethnicity, and anatomic subsite of tumors.

Methods: A total of 79,952 men and 93,475 women who participated in the Multiethnic Cohort Study were included. Primary outcome was incidence of invasive CRC. Cox models were used to estimate the risk of CRC across quintiles of three plant-based diet scores: overall plant-based diet index (PDI), healthful plant-based diet index (hPDI), and unhealthful plant-based diet index (uPDI).

Results: During a mean follow-up of 19.2 years, 4976 incident CRC were identified. Among men, multivariable-adjusted HR (95% CI) for the highest vs. lowest quintiles was 0.77 (0.67-0.88) for PDI, and 0.80 (0.70-0.91) for hPDI, while no significant association was found for uPDI among men and for all indices among women. In men, the inverse association for PDI was stronger in Japanese American, Native Hawaiian, and White groups than African American or Latino group (P for heterogeneity = 0.01) and for left colon and rectal tumors than right tumors (P for heterogeneity = 0.005), whereas the decreased risk with hPDI was found consistently across racial and ethnic groups and subsites.

Conclusions: Greater adherence to plant-based diets rich in healthy plant foods and low in less healthy plant foods is associated with a reduced risk of CRC in men, but not in women. The strength of the association among men may vary by race and ethnicity and anatomic subsite of tumors.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer; Multiethnic cohort; Plant food quality; Plant-based diets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Research