The vegan diet is on-trend. How this type of diet affects health is the subject of scientific studies. In a new study from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the bone health of 36 vegans, as well as 36 people following a mixed-food diet, was determined with an ultrasound measurement of the heel bone. The result: on average, people following a vegan diet had lower ultrasound values compared to the other group. This indicates poorer bone health.
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In the study, the scientists also determined biomarkers in blood and urine. This aims to identify nutrients that might be related to diet and bone health. Out of 28 parameters of nutritional status and bone metabolism, it was possible to identify twelve biomarkers most strongly associated with bone health - for example, the amino acid lysine and vitamins A and B6. The results show that in most cases, the combination of these biomarkers was present in lower concentrations in vegans. This could be a possible explanation for the poorer bone health.
A vegan diet is often considered health-conscious. However, our scientific findings indicate that a vegan diet does affect bone health."
Professor Dr. Andreas Hensel, BfR President
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Nutrition plays an important role in bone health. This was more closely investigated in the BfR's cross-sectional "Risks and benefits of a vegan diet" study. 72 men and women participated in the study. The bone health of all participants was assessed at the heel bone using ultrasound measurements. Information on age, smoking status, education, body mass index, physical activity and alcohol consumption were also collected.
By using a statistical model, the BfR was able to identify a pattern of twelve biomarkers that play an important role in bone health from 28 nutrition- and bone-relevant parameters from blood or urine. It was shown that in combination vitamins A and B6, the amino acids lysine and leucine, omega-3 fatty acids, selenoprotein P, iodine, thyroid-stimulating hormone, calcium, magnesium and α-Klotho protein were positively associated with bone health. Conversely, lower concentrations of the hormone FGF23 were observed at higher ultrasound levels in this pattern.
"In conclusion, the study observed differences in bone health between vegans and omnivores, along with differences in biomarkers related to bone health. In addition, an exploratory biomarker pattern was derived that revealed a combination of biomarkers, providing a possible explanation of a reduced bone health in vegans compared to omnivores. Additional studies are required to confirm these findings", the study authors wrote.
BfR Federal Institute for Risk Assessment - This work was supported by a grant from the Elsbeth Bonhoff Stiftung, Berlin, Germany.
Menzel, J., et al. (2021) Vegan Diet and Bone Health—Results from the Cross-Sectional RBVD Study. Nutrients. doi.org/10.3390/nu13020685.