Vegetarian diets have many health benefits, but there may be one downside - weaker hip bones. A recent study conducted in the UK found that women following a vegetarian diet had a higher risk of hip fractures (compared to women who ate meat regularly - 5 or more times a week).
In other words, meat eaters were at a lower risk for a hip fracture. Occasional meat-eaters (less than 5 servings a week) or pescatarians (ate fish, but not meat) were also at a lower risk of hip fracture. Meat products appear to be important for bone health. Other studies also find more hip fractures among persons following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
The researchers point out that vegetarian diets have a lower intake of nutrients important for bones (bone mineral density), and which are more abundant in animal products than in plants (e.g., protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, certain fatty acids).
From Medical Xpress: Vegetarian women are at a higher risk of hip fracture
A study of over 26,000 middle-aged UK women reveals those with a vegetarian diet had a 33% higher risk of hip fracture compared to regular meat-eaters.
University of Leeds research, published Thursday, August 11 in the journal BMC Medicine, investigated the risk of hip fracture in occasional meat-eaters; pescatarians, people who eat fish but not meat; and vegetarians compared to regular meat-eaters.
Among 26,318 women, 822 hip fracture cases were observed over roughly 20 years—that represented just over 3% of the sample population. After adjustment for factors such as smoking and age, vegetarians were the only diet group with an elevated risk of hip fracture.
Vegetarian diets can be 'healthy or unhealthy'
"Vegetarian diets can vary widely from person to person and can be healthy or unhealthy, just like diets that include animal products.
"However, it is concerning that vegetarian diets often have lower intakes of nutrients that are linked with bone and muscle health. These types of nutrients generally are more abundant in meat and other animal products than in plants, such as protein, calcium, and other micronutrients.
Vegetarian diets have gained popularity in recent years, with a 2021 YouGov survey putting the size of the UK vegetarian population at roughly 5-7%. It is often perceived as a healthier dietary option, with previous evidence that shows a vegetarian diet can reduce the risks of several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer compared to omnivorous diets.
The team used data from the UK Women's Cohort Study to investigate possible links between diet and hip fracture risk. The national cohort of middle-aged women was established at the University of Leeds to explore links between diet and chronic disease, encompassing a wide range of different eating patterns. Dietary information was collected using a food frequency questionnaire and was validated using a 4-day food diary in a subsample of women. At the time they were recruited into the cohort study, the women ranged in age from 35 to 69 years.
The research team found that the average BMI among vegetarians was slightly lower than the average among the regular meat eaters. Previous research has shown a link between low BMI and a high risk of hip fracture.
Lower BMI can indicate people are underweight, which can mean poorer bone and muscle health, and higher risk of hip fracture. Further investigation is needed to determine if low BMI is the reason for the observed higher risk in vegetarians.