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Role of plant-based diets in promoting health and longevity

  • Catrin Herpich
    Affiliations
    University of Potsdam, Institute of Nutritional Science, 14558 Nuthetal, Germany

    Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Department of Geriatrics and Medical Gerontology, Berlin, Germany
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  • Ursula Müller-Werdan
    Affiliations
    Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Department of Geriatrics and Medical Gerontology, Berlin, Germany

    Evangelisches Geriatriezentrum Berlin gGmbH, Berlin, Germany
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  • Kristina Norman
    Correspondence
    Corresponding author at: German Institute for Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke, Department of Nutrition and Gerontology, Arthur-Scheunert-Allee 114-116, 14558 Nuthetal, Germany.
    Affiliations
    University of Potsdam, Institute of Nutritional Science, 14558 Nuthetal, Germany

    Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Department of Geriatrics and Medical Gerontology, Berlin, Germany

    German Institute for Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke, Department of Nutrition and Gerontology, 14558 Nuthetal, Germany

    German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), Partner Site Berlin, Berlin, Germany
    Search for articles by this author

      Highlights

      • Vegetarians/vegans have lower mortality rates than people whose diet regularly includes meat.
      • Plant-based diets are associated with an improved metabolic and inflammatory profile.
      • Insights into the specific mechanisms of the effect of plant-based diets on longevity are missing.
      • The health effects of plant-based diets are possibly limited in older age, as adults over 65 require larger amounts of protein.

      Abstract

      Western-style obesity-promoting diets are associated with increased inflammation, higher disease incidence and mortality. In contrast, plant-based diets (PBDs), which incorporate large amounts of vegetables and fruit, legumes, whole grains and only a small amount of meat, are generally associated with better health and lower mortality. This narrative review summarizes the evidence on health and life span in adults adhering to PBDs and discusses the potentially longevity-promoting mechanism of PBDs as well as limitations due to nutrient deficiencies.
      Epidemiologic studies consistently report lower mortality rates in adults who adhering to PBDs when compared with people whose diet regularly includes meat. PBDs are associated with many health benefits, such as improved metabolic and inflammatory profile. In turn, the incidence of cardiovascular disease is lower in adults consuming PBDs, which contributes to their better health. The health-promoting effects of PBDs are still not entirely clear but most likely multifactorial and include modulation of the gut microbiome. The interest in possible longevity-promoting mechanisms of PBDs has increased in recent years, as many characteristics of PBDs such as protein restriction and restriction of certain amino acids are known to extend the life span. While there is ample evidence from animal studies, large-scale human studies, which also provide insight into the specific mechanisms of the effect of PBDs on longevity, are missing. However, due to the lower protein content of PBDs, there appears to be an age limit for the anticipated health effects, as adults over 65 require larger amounts of protein.

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