Cardiovascular health and cancer risk associated with plant based diets: An umbrella review

PLoS One. 2024 May 15;19(5):e0300711. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0300711. eCollection 2024.


Context: Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and cancer are the two main leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Suboptimal diet, poor in vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grain, and rich in processed and red meat, refined grains, and added sugars, is a primary modifiable risk factor. Based on health, economic and ethical concerns, plant-based diets have progressively widespread worldwide.

Objective: This umbrella review aims at assessing the impact of animal-free and animal-products-free diets (A/APFDs) on the risk factors associated with the development of cardiometabolic diseases, cancer and their related mortalities.

Data sources: PubMed and Scopus were searched for reviews, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses published from 1st January 2000 to 31st June 2023, written in English and involving human subjects of all ages. Primary studies and reviews/meta-analyses based on interventional trials which used A/APFDs as a therapy for people with metabolic diseases were excluded.

Data extraction: The umbrella review approach was applied for data extraction and analysis. The revised AMSTAR-R 11-item tool was applied to assess the quality of reviews/meta-analyses.

Results: Overall, vegetarian and vegan diets are significantly associated with better lipid profile, glycemic control, body weight/BMI, inflammation, and lower risk of ischemic heart disease and cancer. Vegetarian diet is also associated with lower mortality from CVDs. On the other hand, no difference in the risk of developing gestational diabetes and hypertension were reported in pregnant women following vegetarian diets. Study quality was average. A key limitation is represented by the high heterogeneity of the study population in terms of sample size, demography, geographical origin, dietary patterns, and other lifestyle confounders.

Conclusions: Plant-based diets appear beneficial in reducing cardiometabolic risk factors, as well as CVDs, cancer risk and mortality. However, caution should be paid before broadly suggesting the adoption of A/AFPDs since the strength-of-evidence of study results is significantly limited by the large study heterogeneity alongside the potential risks associated with potentially restrictive regimens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Diet, Vegan
  • Diet, Vegetarian*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.