Even though there has been for some time concern on the part of experts that a vegetarian diet may have negative impact on bone health, until now that opinion has largely been based on anecdotal evidence and a range of contradictory findings which have often relied on studies which experts say are too small to be biologically relevant.
But now a new review by scientists from Australia and Vietnam of all the peer-reviewed literature on the issue has found that people on vegetarian diets have approximately 5% lower bone mineral density (BMD) than non-vegetarians.
The researchers selected nine studies for analysis which compared the BMD of 2749 men and women - meat eaters and vegetarians - from around the world and the study was led by Professor Tuan Nguyen from Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Dr. Ho-Pham Thuc Lan from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Professor Nguyen says there has been much debate surrounding this issue over the discrepancies in findings, inadequate clinical samples and poor comparative data, which have all added to the confusion.
Professor Nguyen says some of the research indicates that countries with a high rate of vegetable consumption have a low risk of hip fracture, which implies that vegetable consumption is good for bone health, while other studies have highlighted lower BMD measurements among vegetarians and have come to the opposite conclusion.
Professor Nguyen says the truth, encompasses many dietary and lifestyle factors and while BMD is important, it is not the only thing that contributes to fracture risk.
However the ever increasing number of vegetarians - around 5% in Western countries - and the widespread incidence of osteoporosis - 2 million people in Australia alone - means the issue demands some resolution.