Aug. 12, 2022 -- Women who are vegetarian are more likely to experience hip fractures later in their lives than those who eat meat regularly, according to a new study published in BMC Medicine.
Vegetarians may not consume sufficient nutrients for proper bone and muscle health, which could increase their risks for falls and fractures, the researchers concluded.
“The message for vegetarians is don’t give up your diet, because it is healthy for other things and environmentally friendly, but do take care to plan well and don’t miss out on nutrients that you exclude when you don’t eat meat or fish,” James Webster, the lead study author and a researcher with the Nutritional Epidemiology Group at the University of Leeds, told The Guardian.
“It’s likely that vegetarians, for one reason or another, and potentially because of lower intakes of important nutrients, have weaker bones and lower muscle mass,” he said. “Both of those things predispose people to hip fractures.”
Webster and colleagues analyzed health and diet records for more than 26,000 women between ages 35-69 in the UK Women’s Cohort Study, who were classified as regular meat-eaters, occasional meat-eaters, pescatarians or vegetarians.
Over time, 822 women — or 3% — had hip fractures during an average follow-up time of 22 years. Vegetarians were a third more likely to break a hip than regular meat-eaters. There were no differences for pescatarians or occasional meat-eaters.
About 90% of hip fractures are linked to falls, The Guardian reported, which tend to be more common in older adults who are frail and have weaker bones. In turn, fractures can lead to more frailty, falls and fractures.
Webster and colleagues suspect that vegetarians are more likely to be underweight than meat eaters, the newspaper reported, and they may have less fat, weaker bones and weaker muscles that would otherwise protect them during falls.
Webster suggested that vegetarians consider eating fortified cereals with added iron and vitamin B12 for bone health, as well as consume enough protein through nuts, legumes and beans.
The researchers said that future studies should investigate hip fracture risk among men who are vegetarians, as well as non-European groups. Previous studies have suggested that vegetarian men and women have poorer bone health, on average, when compared with meat-eaters.