Vegetarians more likely to suffer hip fracture than meat eaters

A vegetarian diet is known to reduce the risk of developing a number of serious diseases and has huge potential health benefits. But the diet also has its ‘dark side’. Vegetarian women are more likely to suffer hip fractures in later life.

Using data from the UK Biobank, researchers from the University of Leeds analysed the health of more than 26,000 women between the ages of 35 and 69. About 28 per cent of the women were vegetarians, while 1 per cent were vegans.

Vegetarians more likely to suffer hip fracture than meat eaters
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The study found that over a 22-year period, vegetarian women were a third more likely to suffer a hip fracture. Iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies, which vegetarians can suffer from if they don’t make sure they get enough of these nutrients, were cited as possible causes of the weakened bones.

Dietary differences: meat eaters vs. vegetarians

The researchers noted that the vegetarian women in the study had a lower body mass index (BMI). They also consumed less protein and vitamin D than women who regularly ate meat.

“It is likely that vegetarian women have weaker bones and less muscle mass due to lower intakes of important nutrients, which predisposes them to hip fractures,” explains Dr James Webster, a researcher at the University of Leeds, where the study was carried out.

The role of body composition in injury risk

In addition to being underweight (or sometimes overweight), vegetarians may have a lower percentage of body fat, which gives them less protection when they fall. Experts point out that fat acts as a cushion to absorb impact. It’s also important to remember that the risk of falling increases with age, and around 90 per cent of hip fractures occur in older people.

The study included women who were either vegetarians, pescatarians or who ate meat at least five times a week. Vegetarian men were not included in the study, so the data do not show whether the increased risk of fractures also applies to them.

Balancing the benefits and risks

There is strong evidence that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers. At the same time, it is important to make sure that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs in the right amounts. That’s why it’s recommended that vegetarians consume foods fortified with iron and vitamin B12, and include rich sources of protein such as nuts and legumes in their diet.

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