- Individuals following vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets have an increased risk of bone fractures compared to meat-eaters, as per a comprehensive British research study.
- The study encompassed data from approximately 55,000 participants in the EPIC-Oxford study from 1993 to 2001. It noted that the fracture risk in vegans was found to be 2.3 times higher than in meat eaters.
- A total of over 3,900 fractures were reported throughout the study, including broken arms, wrists, hips, legs, ankles, ribs, spine, or collarbone.
- Lower Body Mass Index (BMI), along with lesser protein and calcium intake among non-meat eaters, could contribute to the higher fracture risks observed in these groups. However, even when these factors were adjusted, the overall fracture risk in these dietary groups remained high.
- The findings suggest that there may be other, unidentified factors influencing bone health in non-meat eaters, highlighting the need for further research.
In a comprehensive British research study, it’s been discovered that individuals adhering to vegan diets, which exclude meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, are 43% more susceptible to bone fractures in comparison to their meat-eating counterparts.
Noteworthy is that this increased risk isn’t just limited to vegans. Those who eat fish but stay clear of meat, known as pescatarians, and vegetarians who abstain from meat and fish yet consume dairy and/or eggs, were also identified as having an elevated risk for hip fractures.
A Deep Dive Into The Research
The interesting findings resulted from decades of tracking dietary habits and fracture risk amongst approximately 55,000 Britons who participated in the EPIC-Oxford study from 1993 to 2001. EPIC, or the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition, ranks among the most extensive cohort studies globally.
“Considering data accumulated over 18 years, on average, we observed that vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians exhibited high hip fracture risks in comparison to meat eaters,” stated Tammy Tong, the study’s lead author and a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Oxford.
Regarding fracture risks amongst the vegan community, Tong noted that “The risk in vegans was 2.3 times higher than in meat eaters; translating to an equivalent of 15 additional cases per 1,000 individuals over a decade.”
Apart from higher overall fracture risk, vegans also exhibited higher fracture risks for the legs and vertebrae relative to those who consume meat.
The BMC Medicine journal published these findings on November 22. Among the initial group of 55,000 participants, over 29,000 were omnivores, around 8,000 were pescatarians, approximately 15,500 were vegetarians, and nearly 2,000 were vegans.
Diets were evaluated when participants enrolled in the EPIC-Oxford study, with a reassessment in 2010. Throughout the study, over 3,900 fractures were reported, including broken arms, wrists, hips, legs, ankles, and other fractures involving the ribs, spine, or collarbone.
When considering participants’ diet-specific protein and calcium amounts, the increased fracture risk among those who didn’t consume meat was somewhat reduced. A similar drop-off was noted when Body Mass Index (BMI) was factored. However, non-meat eaters still possessed a considerably higher risk.
What Could Be The Causes?
“One possible contributing factor is that vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians all had lower BMI than the meat eaters. This is significant because a higher BMI has been associated with better cushioning during a fall, enhanced estrogen production, and generally stronger bones,” explained Tong.
Indeed, protein and calcium intake are vital for bone health, and non-meat eaters’ intake of these were lower.
Despite taking all of this into account, overall fracture risk among vegans remained higher, along with a more specific risk for broken legs and hips. This could suggest that other, unidentified factors may be influencing bone health, underscoring the need for further study.
For comprehensive information about non-meat diets, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
SOURCES: Tammy Tong, BSc, MPhil, PhD, nutritional epidemiologist, Cancer Epidemiology Unit, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, U.K.; Lona Sandon, PhD, MEd, RDN, LD, program director and associate professor, department of clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; BMC Medicine, Nov. 22, 2020, online