A new study contributes to the growing body of evidence that a plant-based diet is optimal: not only for animals and the environment, but also for human health.
The researchers behind the new U.K.-based study observed more than 100,000 participants, and found that overall, a healthful plant-based diet was associated with a lower risk of cancer, heart disease, and death — suggesting that eating vegan can reduce our chance of developing diseases that tend to cause early mortality.
Keep reading to learn more about the findings of this study, how the research was conducted, and what it means.
That said, nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice, and you should consult with your physician before making any major diet changes.
A study found that a healthy plant-based diet can help prevent cancer.
For the study, which was published on March 28, 2023, in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, researchers looked at data from 126,394 middle-aged participants the UK Biobank, a massive biomedical database used for research purposes.
This study was a cohort study, meaning that the participants were followed over a long period of time.
The mean age of participants was about 56 years old, about 56 percent were women, and around 91 percent of participants were white — highlighting the need to diversify the populations of future studies.
The large group of participants studied were recruited for the UK Biobank sometime between 2006 and 2010, and have submitted followup data up until 2021. Then from November 2021 to October 2022, the researches analyzed the data regarding the subjects' diet, diseases, and mortality.
The researchers scored each participant to see if their diet could best be described as a "healthful" plant-based diet, an "unhealthful" plant-based diet, or otherwise.
A healthful plant-based diet is one that consumes low amounts of animal foods, sugary drinks, fruit juices, snacks, desserts, refined grains, and potatoes, while an unhealthful plant-based diet would be one that is primarily if not fully vegan, but incorporates some of the aforementioned "less healthy" foods and drinks.
Overall, they found that a greater adherence to the healthful plant-based diet index was associated with a lower risk of:
- Total mortality
- Cancer (total, breast, prostate, and colorectal)
- Cardiovascular disease (total, myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke, and hemorrhagic stroke).
In terms of cancer, the study found that following a healthful plant-based diet was associated with a 7 percent lower risk of all types of cancer. However, participants who tended to heat unhealthful plant-based diets had a 10 percent higher risk of cancer.
"Greater adherence to a healthful plant-based diet was associated with a lower risk of mortality, cancer, and particularly cardiovascular disease. Opposing associations with higher risk were observed for individuals who adhered to an unhealthy plant-based diet," the study's authors wrote.
"The findings of this cohort study of middle-aged U.K. adults suggest that a diet characterized by high-quality plant-based foods and lower intakes of animal products may be beneficial for health, irrespective of established chronic disease risk factors and genetic predisposition," they concluded.
This study's findings align with the growing body of evidence that a plant-based diet can prevent cancer and other disease.
Dr. Michael Greger, M.D., F.A.C.L.M. — a renowned physician, international speaker on nutrition, author, and the founder of NutritionFacts.org — was not surprised by the findings of this new research.
“This is consistent with a large body of evidence showing that those who eat more healthy, whole plant foods and less meat, eggs, and dairy tend to live longer, healthier lives,” Dr. Greger, who was not involved in the study, tells Green Matters exclusively in response to the new research.
"Large scale prospective studies like this are important because they follow people for long-periods of time and look at their eating habits in relation to their health outcomes," Dr. Anna Herby, D.H.Sc., R.D., C.D.E., the Nutrition Education Program Manager for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, tells Green Matters via email.
"This research confirms what we already knew about plant-based diets – focusing on whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is the optimal way of eating for health and longevity," Dr. Herby continues. "These foods are high in fiber and antioxidants, both of which help to protect against diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer."
In the study's conclusion, the researchers assert that the results "support a shift toward food intake that emphasizes healthy plant foods to improve health." Additionally, they note that as more people shift to eating nutritious plant-based diets, more research should be done on how these diets can help prevent disease.
And most importantly, they note that "future studies among more racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse populations are needed."
Again, this information is not to be considered medical advice, and you should consult with doctor regarding any changes to your lifestyle or diet. That said, if you are interested in transitioning to a plant-based diet — whether it's to help prevent disease and premature mortality, for the environmental benefits, or for the animals — check out our guide to going vegan.