There can be many reasons for a person to be a vegetarian. For example, many people are choosing vegetarianism for environmental and ethical reasons. Another major reason people become vegetarian is the hype about its potential health benefits. In fact, there is some evidence that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. But there are also growing concerns about poor bone health and a higher risk of fractures among vegetarians.
Previous studies have shown that vegetarians have lower bone mineral density. But little research has explored whether vegetarians are at higher risk of certain types of fractures – hip fractures in particular. It is one of the most common types of fractures, and it disproportionately affects women. Women who followed a vegetarian diet had a 33% higher risk of hip fracture than those who regularly ate meat. Hip fracture risk in women
Researchers ranked 35,000 women as regular meat eaters (more than five times a week), occasional meat eaters (less than five times a week), pescatarian (fish eaters but not meat) or vegetarians (non-meat eaters). Vegetarians were included in the vegetarian group because they did not have enough vegetarians to study separately. However, age, alcohol consumption, smoking, exercise habits, menopausal status and socioeconomic status are also risk factors.
Vegetarians at greater risk
Vegetarians have a higher risk of hip fractures than regular meat eaters. However, there was no increased risk among non-vegetarians or occasional meat eaters. A 2020 study showed that vegetarians (both men and women) had a 25% higher risk of hip fractures than meat eaters. Similarly, a US study in 2021 showed that vegetarians had a 17% higher risk of hip fractures than non-vegetarians.
eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
Another study actually showed that a diet with a high intake of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of hip fractures, but this review did not specifically look at a vegetarian diet.
maintain a healthy weight
Previous studies have shown that vegetarians tend to have lower body mass index (BMI). While a low BMI is beneficial for many health conditions, being underweight can also impair bone and muscle health – both of which can increase the risk of hip fractures. People who are underweight are more likely to have low bone mineral density, and significantly increase the risk of hip fracture. This is why maintaining a healthy weight can be important for preventing fractures in vegetarians.
eat eggs and dairy products
Meat and fish are good sources of many nutrients important for bone health – such as protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphorus and zinc. While it is possible to get most of these nutrients from plant sources, eggs and dairy products.
Protein and Vitamin B12 are essential
Previous studies have found low intakes of these nutrients in vegetarians. In our study, vegetarians had the lowest intakes of protein and vitamin B12, and were generally less likely to get enough protein than regular meat eaters. So vegetarians may need to pay more attention to the amount of these nutrients – especially protein – to maintain healthy bones. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, beans and whole grains provides most of the nutrients needed for bone health. Meat substitutes can provide an alternative protein source.
adopt a healthy lifestyle
Along with diet, several factors can help reduce the risk of hip fracture, such as not smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, as well as exercising regularly. Resistance exercise (such as weight lifting) can be especially beneficial because it increases bone and muscle strength.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information only. It cannot in any way be a substitute for any medicine or treatment. Always contact your doctor for more details.