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Nutrition

Does a Vegetarian Diet Increase Hip Fracture Risk? New Study Says Yes

In fact, the risk is 33 percent greater.

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Your daily diet either keeps you healthy or accelerates aging. When it comes to bone health, eating foods packed with protein and calcium helps prevent fractures and falls over time. However, science suggests that one diet — a particularly common and popular one — lacks key nutrients needed to maintain muscle mass and bone and mineral density as you age. According to new research, a vegetarian diet can increase women’s risk of hip fracture by an astounding 33 percent.

The Research

Janet Cade, professor and co-author of the BMC Medicine study, outlined its necessity in a press release. “Hip fracture is a global health issue with high economic costs that causes loss of independence, reduces quality of life, and increases risk of other health issues,” she explained. “Plant-based diets have been linked with poor bone health, but there has been a lack of evidence on the links to hip fracture risk.”

This research involved 26,318 women ages 35 to 69 from the UK Women’s Cohort Study (UKWCS). From 1995 to 1998, participants filled out annual questionnaires about their dietary habits in the prior year. The survey data was used in conjunction with participants’ four-day food diaries. Responses to questions on meat, fish, egg, and dairy intake defined which of the four categories participants fell under.

  • Regular meat-eaters: eating meat more than five times a week
  • Occasional meat-eaters: eating meat less five times a week
  • Pescatarians: eating fish but not meat
  • Vegetarians: eating eggs or dairy but not meat or fish
  • Vegans: refraining from eating meat, fish, eggs, or dairy

Vegans were combined with the vegetarian group due to the small number of vegan participants. Researchers identified incident hip fractures using the participants’ hospital episode statistics through March 2019.

The Results

After a 22-year follow up period, the authors discovered 822 hip fracture cases. The risk of hip fracture was 33 percent higher for vegetarian participants than regular meat-eaters. Also, occasional meat-eaters and pescatarians weren’t found to be at an increased risk of fractures. 

Lead author James Webster noted that depending on the person, vegetarian diets can be healthy or unhealthy. “It is concerning that vegetarian diets often have lower intakes of nutrients that are linked with bone and muscle health,” he said. “These types of nutrients generally are more abundant in meat and other animal products than in plants, such as protein, calcium, and other micronutrients.” Webster added that low intakes of these nutrients can lead to decreased bone mineral density and muscle mass – making you more susceptible to hip fractures.

Limitations of the Study

The authors listed important limitations to keep in mind with this study. First, the participants were younger during the study follow-up period than the the average age of women who experience hip fractures (83 years old). Additionally, the causes of hip fracture for younger and older people vary: high-energy trauma is the most common cause of hip fractures in younger adults, while fragility is the most common cause among older adults. Moreover, body mass index (BMI) was measured in this study with participants self-reporting their height and weight – which suggests an error. 

What’s Next

Webster emphasizes that the study is meant to inform people of the possible risks of a vegetarian diet. “Our study highlights potential concerns regarding risk of hip fracture in women who have a vegetarian diet. However, it is not warning people to abandon vegetarian diets,” he said.

Speaking with your doctor before making dietary changes ensures that your body gets the necessary nutrients to properly function. “As with any diet, it is important to understand personal circumstances and what nutrients are needed for a balanced healthy lifestyle,” he said.

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