A plant diet is linked to improving mental health, reducing some known risk factors for type 2 diabetes and possibly some of those associated with cardiovascular disease, according to a new study published in the BMJ.
While a plant-rich diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, pulses and seeds without vitamin or animal products has been associated with a significantly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it was unclear whether it can also be associated with improved mood.
To try to find out, the researchers pulled the available evidence and found 11 relevant English language clinical trials that compared herbal diets with other foods. The studies involved a total of 433 people in the mid-50s on average.
Eight of the trials evaluated the effect of a vegan diet and six including patients who received information on optimal nutrition to help them better understand the benefits of a herbal diet. The tests lasted an average of 23 weeks.
An analysis of the results showed that the quality of life – both physical and emotional – improved only in those patients with plant nutrition. Similarly, depressive symptoms were significantly improved only in these groups.
Nerve pain (neuropathy) is facilitated in both plant and comparative diet groups, but more in the first. And the loss of temperature control in the feet in those in the other diets shows that eating mainly vegetarian foods may have slowed progressive nerve damage associated with diabetes, researchers say.
Researchers point to various concerns about their findings, including the small sample sizes of the studies they have examined and the use of data on the recall of the participants. But this review is the first to try to examine the psychological effects of a herbal diet on people with type 2 diabetes and is based on research from five different countries, they say.
Overall, the results showed that although plant foods were harder to follow, at least for the first time, their participants were better suited than those of the comparative groups.
The researchers wrote: "Based on the research findings of this systematic review, it can be concluded that plant foods accompanied by educational interventions can significantly improve psychological health, quality of life, HbA1c levels and weight, diabetes. "
In addition, plant foods could potentially improve diabetic neuropathic pain and levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in type 2 diabetes. "