A study published over the weekend has reported that vegans and others who generally avoid animal products in their diets may face a greater risk of bone fracture compared to people who eat meat. The study focused on all varieties of plant-based diets, including vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian, finding that the bone fracture risk increased as the animal products in the diet decreased.
Generally speaking, a vegan diet is one that avoids any and all animal-based food products, including things like eggs and honey. Vegetarians avoid the flesh of animals, but often eat eggs and dairy. Pescatarians, meanwhile, essentially eat a vegetarian diet, but with the addition of seafood.
The new study led by the University of Oxford evaluated data on around 55,000 people who had participated in the EPIC-Oxford prospective cohort study. These people lived in the UK at the time and were recruited for the study from 1993 to 2001; the participants were followed for an average of 18 years for data on whether they suffered a fracture during that time.
Of these participants, around 29,000 ate meat, around 8,000 were pescatarian, around 15,500 were vegetarians, and the remaining 1,900 or so were vegans at the time of recruitment. During the follow-up period, the participants had reported a total of 3,941 fractures, including 945 to the hip, 366 involving the leg, 520 involving the ankle, 566 involving the arm, and another 467 at in other ‘main’ areas of the body, such as the collar bone, vertebrae, and ribs.
Based on the data, the study found that vegans faced the greatest risk of bone fractures, followed by vegetarians and pescatarians, when compared to those who ate meat. The study’s lead author Dr. Tammy Tong explained:
This is the first comprehensive study on the risks of both total and site-specific fractures in people of different diet groups. We found that vegans had a higher risk of total fractures which resulted in close to 20 more cases per 1000 people over a 10-year period 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, equivalent to 15 more cases per 1000 people over 10 years.
There is a ‘catch’ to the findings, though, in that the bone fractures couldn’t be separated between those that resulted from poor bone health and those that resulted from accidents. As well, the study was largely limited to white Europeans and the researchers didn’t have access to data on any potential differences in supplemental calcium intake.