According to a recent study involving over 55,000 people, a meatless diet is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures, especially of the hip.
Although meat-free diets were the exception a few years ago, they are now widespread. Pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans all have chosen to exclude meat and, in the case of vegans, all animal products from their diet.
Epidemiological studies have shown that people who do not eat meat have a lower bone mineral density than people who eat meat. In fact, the mineral part of the bones consists mainly of calcium phosphate, the latter being mainly supplied by dairy products.
In a prospective cohort study, it was investigated whether people who do not eat meat have an increased risk of bone fractures. Their statistical results, based on questionnaires and a medical follow-up of about 17 years (EPIC-Oxford), suggest that this risk exists.
Increased risk of fractures in people who do not eat meat
At the beginning of the study, the participants, about 55,000 people, provided information about their diet and other data about their health, lifestyle, and socio-economic profile. They were divided into four categories, according to their habits:
- Meat-eaters (29,830 people)
- Pescetarians, that is, people who do not eat meat but fish, eggs, and milk (8,037 people)
- Vegetarians, who eat eggs and milk (15,499 people)
- vegans, who do not consume animal products (1,982 people)
During the 17 years of follow-up, scientists recorded 3,941 cases of bone fractures, including 945 hip fractures, 889 wrist fractures, 566 arm fractures, 560 ankle fractures, and 366 leg fractures.
For each type of fracture, the scientists compared the risk based on the participants’ diet, using meat-eaters as a reference. It appears that for all fractures taken together, people following a meatless diet have a higher risk of fractures. They appear to be particularly susceptible to hip fractures (hazard ratio of 1.26 for pescetarians, 1.25 for vegetarians, and 2.31 for vegans aged 17 or older). Vegans also have an increased risk of leg fractures, which is less common for both vegetarians and pescetarians. However, there were no significant differences for wrist, ankle, and arm fractures.
Scientists point out that these observations are not necessarily related to lower average calcium and protein consumption, as observed in meatless diets, but to BMI. In fact, people who have excluded meat from their diet have a lower BMI than others. They would then be more susceptible to fractures, especially if they fell or had an accident. The role of calcium and protein intake seems less obvious in this study.