Vegetarian diets may increase hip fracture risk by 50%

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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A lack of certain nutrients from vegetarian diets may increase bone fracture risk. Anastasia Mihaylova (Shpara)/Stocksy
  • People can take a variety of approaches to diet.
  • Some people, for example, prefer to eliminate meat from their diets for many Health, environmental, and ethical reasons.
  • Data from a recent study found that people following a vegetarian diet were at a higher associated risk for hip fractures compared to participants who ate meat or fish.
  • People following a vegetarian diet can ensure they eat a well-balanced diet that contains all the essential nutrients to reduce their risk of experiencing bone fractures.

W​hat people eat influences multiple aspects of their well-being. Not eating meat is a popular dietary choice and may offer several Health benefits. However, researchers are still seeking to understand the potential risks of following a vegetarian diet.

A recent​ study in the UK examined the risk for hip fractures among people who ate meat, pescatarians, and vegetarians.

The results of the study showed that both men and women who followed a vegetarian diet were at higher risk for hip fractures. This was partly related to the lower body mass index among participants who followed a vegetarian diet.

The study is published in BMC Medicine.

T​his prospective cohort study included over 400,000 participants. Researchers used data from the UK Biobank, which includes individuals from England, Scotland, and Wales ages 40–69 years.

Researchers looked at the risk for hip fractures, following up with participants an average of twelve and a half years later. They excluded participants based on specific criteria, including if they had a previous hip fracture or osteoporosis history.

Based on food frequency questionnaires, researchers divided participants into four key groups:

Researchers chose to combine the vegan and vegetarian groups because only a few participants were vegan.

Researchers accounted for many confounders, including the participants’ sex, ethnicity, regular use of nutritional supplements, activity level, smoking status, and alcohol consumption. They then looked at the associated risk for hip fractures among these different nutrition groups.

The findings indicated that people who followed a vegetarian diet were at a 50% higher risk of experiencing a hip fracture compared to meat-eater groups and pescatarians.

Researchers noted that some of this heightened risk might be explained by the lower body mass index of participants who followed a vegetarian diet. The authors speculated that a lower BMI could mean poor health of muscles and bones or reduced cushioning from impact forces during a fall from lack of fat.

But most of the reasons for the risk association were unclear. The authors speculate the increased hip fracture risk could be related to lower levels of protein and other key nutrients among vegetarians.

Dr. Emily Leeming, a registered dietitian and nutrition scientist, who was not involved in the study, offered her explanations to Medical News Today:

“We know that being at a slightly higher BMI is protective against risk of fractures from other studies, so this could be partially explained by differences in bone mass density. In this study, people who ate a vegetarian diet had, on average, a lower BMI than the other diet groups. However, as the study shows, there are likely other factors at play too.”

“The vegetarian group were less likely to reach their protein intake requirements than the other diet groups, with adequate protein intake essential for building and maintaining bone mass. This may also be exacerbated by poor intakes of other nutrients involved in bone Health.”
— Dr. Emily Leeming

Despite the higher risk for hip fracture among vegetarians, this doesn’t mean people should avoid a vegetarian diet. James Webster, first study author, explained to MNT:

“We found that vegetarians were at a 50% greater risk of hip fracture than regular meat-eaters, regardless of sex. Lower BMI in vegetarians explained some of this risk difference…Importantly, the 50% greater risk in vegetarians translated to three more hip fractures per 1,000 people over 10 years.”

“The health benefits of a vegetarian diet, including a lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, may therefore outweigh any increases in hip fracture risk. Additionally, since there was no difference in risk between occasional and regular meat-eaters, reducing meat intake from the diet doesn’t seem to affect hip fracture risk.”
— James Webster, study author

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