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Do Vegans Really Have A Higher Bone Fracture Risk?

A new study suggests vegans have a higher risk of bone fracture than meat-eaters – but what does the science actually say?

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3 Minutes Read

A new study from the EPIC-Oxford team suggests that vegans, vegetarians and fish-eaters all have a higher risk of bone fracture than meat-eaters – with vegans faring the worst.

Sensational headlines declared: “Vegans 43 percent more likely to suffer bone fractures, study suggests”. But the study authors say more research is needed. 

‘A possibility of error’

Participants filled in dietary questionnaires when the study started between 1993 and 2001, and again in 2010. It’s unclear if they have been asked about the foods they eat since then – ten years ago. Nutrient intakes were based on what the participants said they ate. So, there was a possibility of error among all diet groups. Their NHS records were accessed up until 2016. 

They found that, compared to meat-eaters, vegans had a higher risk of fracture equivalent to 20 more cases per 1,000 people over 10 years. Women were most affected, particularly postmenopausal women with low physical activity and a low body mass index (BMI). In fact, the higher fracture risk in vegans was only significant in those with a low BMI. A bit of extra weight, it seems, may protect your hips when you fall. However, being overweight or obese carries serious health risks – and an increased risk of ankle fracture. 

Lower intakes of calcium and protein and a lower BMI were suggested as possible reasons for the increased fracture risk among vegans. However, when the figures were adjusted to account for these factors, the higher risk remained. So, they said, it might be some other factor and suggested vitamins B12 and D be looked at in future. 

Vegans’ BMI

Vegans tend to weigh less than meat-eaters. So, one difficulty they had was matching enough vegans and meat-eaters with a similar BMI to make meaningful comparisons. Very few vegans were in the higher BMI category. Only a relatively small number of meat-eaters had a low BMI. 

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) protects against bone loss during the menopause and only 5.6 per cent of the vegan women in this study reported taking it compared to 26.7 per cent of the meat-eating women.

Lastly, there was no information on the causes of the fractures. So , this study couldn’t tell if they were the result of fragile bones or trauma. 

Calcium

If you look around the world… Most osteoporosis occurs in the very countries that consume the most dairy – so milk does not prevent bone loss. Of course, we need calcium for our bones. But, a healthy vegan diet provides the whole package of nutrients needed for healthy bones. This includes vitamins A, C, K and the B group, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, boron, iron, copper and zinc. 

Research shows that physical activity, especially weight-bearing exercise such as walking, climbing stairs and dancing, is the most critical factor for maintaining healthy bones. Followed by improving diet and lifestyle. This means eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds and cutting down on caffeine and avoiding alcohol and smoking. 

All major health bodies agree, a healthy, varied vegan diet can support good bone health and protect you from disease. For more information see here

This article was republished with permission from Viva! Read the original article here

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The Author

Liam Gilliver

Liam is the former Deputy Editor of Plant Based News. He has written for The Independent, Huffington Post, Attitude Magazine, and more. He is also the author of 'We're Worried About Him'.

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Jon
Jon
1 year ago

Some interesting data in the study, the vegans had the lowest dietary calcium and were the least likely to take any supplements which surprised me. Even if you don’t like the headline just look at the data and think about your nutrients. I recommend the free app ‘cronometer’ which is an awesome way of checking your macros and micros. Vegan Jon.

Jeff
Jeff
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon

If you take a close look at the data, the conclusion that the authors were wildly irresponsible in their claims is unavoidable. The men in the different diet groups didn’t significantly differ from each other in fracture rates; only the women did. Furthermore, only those vegans with BMI less than 22.5 had higher fracture rates than non-vegans, and there were no differences in fracture rates for smaller bones such as the wrist and ankle, suggesting that it’s not that (female) vegans have weaker bones, it’s that they are thinner and don’t have as much “padding” protecting larger bones in the event of a collision.

wrxman
wrxman
1 year ago

Dr Gregor talks about vitamin k and this study. There seems to be a few gray areas.

Jeff
Jeff
1 year ago

You didn’t really answer the question your title poses. The answer is “No, they don’t.” And furthermore, the authors’ article is really bad science. They overlooked enormous confounding variables in their study in order to engage in a dishonest attack on vegan diets, which their study doesn’t actually show have any impact on bone strength. I broke down the problems with this study here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooMidGqdlwg&

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