Plant-Based Diet: High Hip Fracture Risk Among Vegetarian Women

Key Takeaways:

  • Adult women following a vegetarian diet have a higher risk of experiencing hip fractures, compared to those who consume meat and fish.
  • The increased risk for hip fractures among vegetarians could be due to lower Body Mass Index (BMI) and nutritional deficiencies, such as lower intakes of vitamin D, vitamin B12, and protein typically found in meat and fish.
  • Vegetarians can mitigate their risks by maintaining an optimal weight, consuming an abundance of plant-based foods rich in nutrients necessary for bone health, and consider fortified foods and supplements to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
  • Regular exercise, particularly resistance training, abstinence from excessive alcohol and smoking contribute significantly to bone strength.
  • Vegans who practice strength or weight exercises have stronger bones compared to those focusing on other exercise forms.

Research indicates that adult women following a vegetarian diet may face higher chances of experiencing a hip fracture in comparison to females who regularly consume meat and fish.

Why Are Vegetarian Women At Risk?

Additional research is needed to fully comprehend why vegetarians appear to be at an increased risk for hip fractures. However, the primary hypotheses point towards lower Body Mass Index (BMI) and nutritional deficiencies.

As James Webster, a doctoral researcher from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds in England, explained, “While a lower BMI may be beneficial for numerous health matters, being underweight might contribute to inadequate fat mass and poor bone and muscle health. These factors subsequently elevate the risk of hip fractures.”

It is important to note that lower fat mass can reduce cushioning in the event of a fall, and falls are responsible for 90% of hip fractures.

The Role of Nutrients

Fish and meat are rich sources of several bone-healthy nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and protein. Although most of these nutrients can be obtained from plant sources, eggs, and dairy products, previous studies have found that vegetarians tend to have lower intakes of these essential nutrients.

About The Study

In their study, researchers assessed the hip fracture rates in over 26,000 women aged between 35-69. These included regular meat-eaters, pescatarians (who ate fish but not meat), vegetarians, and women who consumed meat no more than four times a week.

Vegetarians stood out as the only group with a heightened risk of hip fractures once researchers accounted for other risk-increasing factors like smoking status and physical activity levels.

Steps Vegetarians Can Take

There are strategies that vegetarians can implement to safeguard their bones while reaping the cardiovascular and other health advantages of a plant-based diet. This begins with maintaining an optimal weight, which improves the chances of having healthy bones and muscles and assists in reducing the risk of hip fractures.

Eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, beans, and whole grains provides most of the nutrients needed for bone health and fracture prevention.

You might also consider fortified foods and supplements. As Webster advised, “Consuming foods fortified with key nutrients or taking nutritional supplements can also help prevent nutritional deficiencies, particularly for vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are challenging to obtain from plant-based foods.”

Maintaining strong bones also involves abstaining from excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, get regular exercise, particularly resistance training, which boosts muscle and bone strength.

Supporting Findings From Austrian Researchers

Recent research from Austria strengthens this recommendation. The study found that vegans practicing strength or weight exercises have stronger bones than those focusing solely on other exercise forms, such as biking or swimming.

Dietitian’s Advice on Building Healthy Bones

Several dietitians not associated with the new study have stressed that constructing strong and healthy bones transcends merely consuming adequate calcium.

Robin Foroutan, a New York dietitian, advised focusing on high-quality vegetarian protein sources. Combine this with dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and other plant foods high in minerals to foster healthy bones.

For vegetarians who do not consume red meat but are open to other animal products, Professor Marion Nestle, a retired professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, advised not to be overly concerned about bone fractures. However, underweight vegans could potentially be lacking essential nutrients.

Learn more about following a healthy vegetarian diet here.

SOURCES: James Webster, School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds, England, Robin Foroutan, dietitian, New York, Lona Sandon, School of Health Professions, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Marion Nestle, New York University, New York City, BMC Medicine, Aug. 11, online publication.

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