A just-published study in the journal BMC Medicine found that vegans and vegetarians have a higher risk of fracture than omnivores.
Today we'll take a closer look at that study and uncover why its conclusion is misleading. There are bone-damaging vegan diets, just as there are bone-damaging diets that include animal protein.
However, this study can help us understand what every diet must include to reduce fracture risk. Savers will be glad to learn that the results are consistent with the recommendations of the Osteoporosis Reversal Program.
A Study Of Diets And Fracture Risk
This just-published study, set out to compare the difference in fracture risk between vegetarians, vegans, and non-vegetarians. The participants included:
- 29,380 non-vegetarians
- 8037 pescatrians (people who eat fish, but not other meat)
- 15,499 vegetarians
- 1982 vegans
Researchers looked at an average of 17 and a half years of data per participant, comparing their diets to their fracture outcomes. Participants filled out a dietary questionnaire, and fracture outcomes were determined using their medical records.1
Notably, the study did not include information on whether participants were taking any dietary supplements.
Overall, this comparison of diets and fracture outcomes found that vegetarians, and especially vegans, had higher risks of fracture and particularly hip fracture.1 However, that result doesn't mean that eating meat is good for your bones, or that not eating meat increases your fracture risk.
A closer look at what this study did and didn't measure can help us better understand these results.
A British study followed the diets of about 65,000 participants over almost two decades. It compared the fracture outcomes of vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians (who eat fish but no other meat), and non-vegetarians. They found that non-meat eaters were more likely to fracture a bone. However, the study results require closer examination.
A Closer Look At The Results
We can assume that the dietary reporting is fairly accurate and that medical records of fractures were correct. However, the study falters when it implies that the participants who didn't eat meat had higher fracture risk because of that dietary choice.
The researchers themselves address this shortcoming. In the conclusion of the study, they bring up the question of the participants' nutritional intake. Here's what they said:
“These risk differences were likely partly due to their lower BMI, and possibly to lower intakes of calcium and protein… Future work might benefit from examining possible biological pathways by investigating serum levels of vitamin D, vitamin B12, or IGF-1, or in assessing the possible roles of other nutrients that are abundant in animal-sourced foods.”1
This gets to the heart of the matter. It wasn't meat that vegans or vegetarians were missing from their diets — it was certain nutrients. Non-vegetarians may have been getting those nutrients from their diet or from vitamin and mineral supplements. Keep in mind that the study questionnaire did not ask participants about their nutritional supplementation.
The researchers didn't gather information about the nutritional make-up of the participants' diets. They address in their conclusion that future studies should look at the impact of nutritional intake, not just whether or not people eat meat.
A Vegan Diet Isn't Automatically Healthy
A vegan diet can provide every single nutrient you need to build strong bones and stay healthy. But only if you make sure you’re getting all the necessary nutrients. If you're not knowledgeable and intentional about what you eat, a vegan diet can be unhealthy and bone-damaging, but the same is true of a diet that includes animal protein.
Think of it this way. If you only ate apples you wouldn't stay healthy for very long. Apples provide important nutrients, but they don't provide every nutrient you need. No single food does. The problem with the apples-only diet isn't the lack of meat.
Similarly, the increased fracture risk the researchers observed in their vegetarian and vegan participants was not caused because they weren't eating meat. It's because they weren't getting all the important nutrients they needed to maintain strong and healthy bones.
That's why the researchers recommended future studies look at specific nutritional values. The study shows that there are micronutrients found in animal products that are important for bone health. But we already knew that. We also know that there is more than one way to get them.
Vegan diets can be unhealthy and bone-damaging if they don't contain all the nutrients you need to stay healthy and strong. You don't have to eat meat to get all the bone-building nutrients you need.
The Save Institute's Recommendation
The Save Institute's Osteoporosis Reversal Program doesn't require you to give up meat. The Program's 80/20 pH-balanced diet isn't built around denying yourself certain foods.
When you follow the 80/20 diet, 80 percent of the food you eat is alkalizing and 20 percent is acidifying. Since all animal products are acidifying, this diet naturally limits your meat consumption to no more than 20 percent of your meal.
For Savers who don't eat meat, the key is eating plant sources of protein and other nutrients found in animal products. You can get all of the amino acids your body needs for building muscle and bone by following a plant-based diet. There are vegan athletes and body-builders after all!
Conversely, people who eat a meat-heavy diet are often getting too much protein. Studies have found that low protein intake is associated with reductions in cancer and longer lifespans.2
In addition to the pH-balanced diet that encourages eating a variety of healthy plant-based foods, the ORP recommends supplementing your diet with necessary nutrients. Savers should supplement with Vitamin D, B12, and calcium regardless of whether they eat meat– in addition to the rest of the Foundation Supplements that support bone health.
The Daily Recommended Allowance of those nutrients are:
- Vitamin D – 400 IU for people aged 51 to 70 years old, 600 IU if older than 70
- Vitamin B12 – 2.4 mcg per day
- Calcium – 800-1200 mg per day
Please note that at the Save Institute we recommend taking a daily dose of 2000 IU of Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), 100 mcg of Vitamin B12, and 800 mg of organic calcium.
The 80/20 pH-balanced diet in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program naturally limits meat consumption since animal products are acidifying. You can follow a bone-healthy diet regardless of whether or not you eat meat. Every Saver should supplement with Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12, and calcium along with the rest of the Foundation Supplements.
What This Means To You
The researchers didn't gather enough data to uncover what caused the difference in fracture risk between the groups of participants. They even stated in their report that the increased risk was due to nutritional intake. But they didn't measure that intake.
Fortunately, we have plenty of research on the importance of a nutritionally balanced diet. And we know that consuming a variety of bone-healthy foods, in combination with smart supplementation, provides us with everything we need to stay healthy and build strong bones.
The Osteoporosis Reversal Program explains how simple it is to follow a bone-healthy diet, and helps you make lifestyle choices that reduce your fracture risk and improve your quality of life.
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