In a new study, researchers found that vegans, vegetarians, and pescetarians may be at higher risk of bone fractures.
Compared with people who ate meat, vegans with lower calcium and protein intakes on average had a 43% higher risk of fractures anywhere in the body (total fractures), as well as higher risks of site-specific fractures of the hips, legs, and vertebrae.
Vegetarians and people who ate fish but not meat had a higher risk of hip fractures, compared to people who ate meat.
However, the risk of fractures was partly reduced once body mass index (BMI), dietary calcium, and dietary protein intake were taken into account.
This is the first study on the risks of both total and site-specific fractures in people of different diet groups.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Oxford and elsewhere.
In the study, the team analyzed data from nearly 55,000 people, many of whom do not eat meat.
Participants were followed continuously for 18 years on average until 2016 for the occurrence of fractures.
The researchers found that vegans had a higher risk of total fractures compared to people who ate meat.
The biggest differences were for hip fractures, where the risk in vegans was 2.3 times higher than in people who ate meat.
In addition to a higher risk of hip fractures in vegans, vegetarians and pescetarians than the meat-eaters, vegans also had a higher risk of leg fractures and other main site fractures.
The team found no big differences in risks between diet groups for arm, wrist, or ankle fractures once BMI was taken into account.
They found that the differences in risk of total and site-specific fractures were partly reduced once BMI, dietary calcium and dietary protein intake had been taken into account.
The team says 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.
One author of the study is Dr. Tammy Tong, Nutritional Epidemiologist at the Nuffield Department of Population Health.
The study is published in BMC Medicine.
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