- Vegans who don't get enough calcium and protein from their diet may face a greater risk of bone fractures, according to a new study.
- Researchers found that vegans had a 43% greater risk of bone fractures, and specifically higher risk of hip, leg, and vertebrae fractures, than people who ate meat and dairy.
- They found vegans who do ensure to include calcium-rich foods into their diets can lower their risk, but it is more of an effort.
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A study found vegans had a 43% higher risk of bone fractures than omnivores.
According to a study published today in BMC Medicine, vegetarians and pescatarians also had an elevated risk, but it was lowered when they made a concerted effort to include protein- and calcium-rich foods on their plates.
However, even after adjusting for protein and calcium intake, vegans still had significantly higher risk of fractures than people who consumed dairy and/or meat, suggesting some other variable is involved, such as deficits in vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Despite these findings, the researchers said people shouldn't necessary forego a plant-based diet, since it's possible to get your necessary nutrients without eating animal products, it just may require some planning.
Less calcium and protein might be partly to blame
The researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Bristol analyzed data from 54,898 men and women from the UK over an average of 18 years of follow-up.
They looked at fractures from all causes, including accidents, so they couldn't determine whether any broken bones were directly caused by a specific diet. But they believe protein and calcium consumption is a key component.
Overall, participants who didn't eat red meat generally had a higher risk of hip fractures than their carnivorous counterparts — a statistic which rang true even after adjusting for lifestyle variables such as income and education.
Vegans in the study tended to have lower levels of both nutrients in their diets. This makes sense because meat, eggs, and fish are rich sources of protein, and dairy is an important source of calcium for non-vegans.
Vegans also tended to have a lower body mass index (or weight-to-height ratio), which is also a risk factor for fractures.
"Previous studies have shown that low BMI is associated with a higher risk of hip fractures, and low intakes of calcium and protein have both been linked to poorer bone health," Dr. Tammy Tong, lead author of the study and nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said in a press release.
Vegan diets can still be healthy
A well-balanced vegan diet can include things like beans, quinoa, oats, and soy for protein. For calcium, dark, leafy greens and chia seeds are good plant-based sources. But it's also not a bad idea to supplement other nutrients like vitamin D, whether you're vegan or not.
There's lot of evidence veganism can have health benefits, too. Previous research has linked a plant-based diet to lower blood pressure, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and less chance of developing diabetes and/or obesity.
As a result, it's important to take the study with a grain of salt in considering what diet might be best for each person's unique health needs.
"Individuals should take into account the benefits and risks of their diet, and ensure that they have adequate levels of calcium and protein and also maintain a healthy BMI, that is, neither under nor overweight," Tong said in the press release.
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