A new study conducted by researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Bristol, UK, has found that in comparison with people who eat meat, vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians (fish and seafood) may be at a higher risk of hip fractures.
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This was found to be partly due to the lower body mass index (BMI) associated with a meat-free diet, in addition to dietary levels of calcium and protein. These findings should be taken with caution, given the numerous health benefits associated with vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets.
Overall, the findings of the new study emphasize the role of BMI and dietary calcium and protein intake on the risk of falls. The findings may help influence the development of future interventions to prevent those at risk of falls from suffering bone fractures.
BMI and dietary calcium and protein levels
The team analyzed data collected from around 55,000 individuals from the UK, recruited between 1993 and 2001. Many in this cohort omitted meat from their diets.
A total of 29,380 ate meat, while 15,499 were vegetarians, 8,037 were pescatarians, and 1,982 were vegans. Participants were followed for an average of 18 years, until 2016, where data was continuously collected regarding incidences of fractures.
The results of the study revealed that there was a higher prevalence of hip fractures in vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians in comparison to meat-eaters. In addition, the data showed that vegans were also at an elevated risk of leg fractures. Once the researchers took BMI, dietary calcium, and protein intake into account, these effects were partly reduced.
It is suggested that lower BMIs associated with meat-free diets might be, at least in part, related to the increased risk of fractures seen in vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians.
Previous studies have shown that low BMI is associated with a higher risk of hip fractures, and low intakes of calcium and protein have both been linked to poorer bone health. This study showed that vegans, who on average had lower BMI as well as lower intakes of calcium and protein than meat-eaters, had higher risks of fractures at several sites."
Because of this, these results must be interpreted with caution. In general, lower BMIs are favorable, with higher BMIs often indicating obesity and indicative of obesity-related illnesses.
Therefore, individuals should not be discouraged from meat-free diets due to their relationship with lower BMIs, due to the health benefits they bring.
The benefits of a meat-free diet
Numerous studies have highlighted the health benefits of meat-free diets. There is a growing body of data to support the links between meat-free diets and a lower risk of mortality from ischemic heart disease, as well as a reduced risk of developing appendicitis, constipation, diverticular disease, and gallstones.
Studies have also highlighted the association between the vegan diet and a reduced risk of cancer. While more research is needed to fully understand the underlying mechanisms of such claims, the health benefits of meat-free diets are hard to contest. Therefore, data that may discourage people from these kinds of diets must be taken in full context.
Dr. Tong stresses the importance of interpreting the study's results in their proper context, "well-balanced and predominantly plant-based diets can result in improved nutrient levels and have been linked to lower risks of diseases including heart disease and diabetes. Individuals should take into account the benefits and risks of their diet, and ensure that they have adequate levels of calcium and protein and also maintain a healthy BMI, that is, neither under nor overweight."
Further investigation needed
More studies are needed to fully understand the relationship between meat-free diets and risk or fracture. Different populations need to be studied to determine if the link endures across cultures.
Also, cohorts with larger percentages of men are required to understand if gender has an impact.