Healthy plant-based diet may help lower diabetes risk

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Scientists from Harvard found that the consumption of healthy plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, and legumes, is linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes

The research is published in Diabetologia and was conducted by Professor Frank Hu et al.

Over 90% of diabetes cases are the type 2 form, and the condition poses a major threat to health around the world.

The global health burden of T2D is further increased by the numerous complications arising from the disease, both macrovascular, such as cardiovascular disease, and microvascular, which damage the kidneys, the eyes, and the nervous system.

The diabetes epidemic is primarily caused by unhealthy diets, overweight or obesity, genetic predisposition, and other lifestyle factors such as a lack of exercise.

Plant-based diets, especially healthy ones rich in high-quality foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, have been associated with a lower risk of developing T2D but the underlying mechanisms involved are not fully understood.

In the study, the team did an analysis of blood plasma samples and dietary intake of 10,684 participants from three prospective cohorts.

They tested blood samples taken back in the late 1980s and 1990s in the early phase of the three studies mentioned above to create metabolite profile scores for the participants, and any cases of incident T2D during the follow-up period of the study were recorded.

The team found that compared with participants who did not develop T2D, those who were diagnosed with the disease during follow-up had a lower intake of healthy plant-based foods.

In addition, they had a higher average BMI and were more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, use blood pressure and cholesterol drugs, have a family history of diabetes, and be less physically active.

The results revealed that plant-based diets were associated with unique multi-metabolite profiles and that these patterns differed significantly between the healthy and unhealthy plant-based diets.

In addition, metabolite profile scores for both the overall plant-based diet and the healthy plant-based diet were inversely associated with incident T2D.

Further analysis found that after adjusting for levels of trigonelline, hippurate, isoleucine, a small set of triacyglycerols (TAGs), and several other intermediate metabolites, the association between plant-based diets and T2D largely disappeared, suggesting that they might play a key role in linking those diets to incident diabetes.

Trigonelline, for example, is found in coffee and has demonstrated beneficial effects on insulin resistance in animal studies, while higher levels of hippurate are associated with better glycaemic control, enhanced insulin secretion, and lower risk of T2D.

The team suggests that these metabolites could be investigated further and may provide mechanistic explanations of how plant-based diets can have a beneficial effect on T2D risk.

The findings support the beneficial role of healthy plant-based diets in diabetes prevention.

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