Women who follow a vegetarian diet have a higher risk of breaking their hips in later life, a new study suggests.
Researchers said vegetarian diets “often have lower intakes of nutrients that are linked with bone and muscle health” after their study found female vegetarians had a 33% increased risk of hip fracture compared to regular meat eaters.
The study, which involved more than 26,000 women aged 35-69 from across the UK, assessed the risk of hip fracture among vegetarians, pescatarians – those who eat fish but not meat – and occasional meat eaters compared with regular meat eaters.
After around 20 years, researchers noted 822 hip fractures among the women – around 3% of those involved in the study, which has been published in the journal BMC Medicine.
Experts from the University of Leeds found that an elevated risk of hip fracture was found only among vegetarian women compared with women who regularly consumed meat.
The data was drawn from the UK Women’s Cohort Study, which is tracking women over time to assess the risks between diet and health.
Among the group of women 28% are vegetarian and 1% are vegan.
Study lead author James Webster, a researcher from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds, said: ‘Our study highlights potential concerns regarding risk of hip fracture in vegetarian women.
‘However, it is not warning people to abandon vegetarian diets – as with any diet, it is important to understand personal circumstances and what nutrients are needed for a balanced healthy lifestyle.’
He added: ‘Vegetarian diets often have lower intakes of nutrients that are linked with bone and muscle health. These types of nutrients generally are more abundant in meat and other animal products than in plants, such as protein, calcium, and other micronutrients.
‘Low intake of these nutrients can lead to lower bone mineral density and muscle mass, which can make you more susceptible to hip fracture risk.’
Study co-author professor Janet Cade added: ‘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.
‘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 study is an important step in understanding the potential risk plant-based diets could present over the long-term and what can be done to mitigate those risks.’
Researchers said further reserach is needed to assess whether there could be similar results found among men.
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