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Vegan Diet Linked to Poorer Bone Health

A vegan diet is considered healthy, but new findings indicate that a vegan diet could be deleterious to bone health.

A vegan diet is considered healthy, but ‘Our scientific findings indicate that a vegan diet does affect bone health’ says German Professor Dr. Andreas Hensel.

Diets play crucial roles in maintaining health and wellness.  It provides not only energy but also delivers numerous micro components that modulate metabolic pathways and body functions.

In recent years, the consumption of plant-based products has become popular in many countries. This trend—consuming more plant-based diet and avoiding animal origin diet—is not only due to the concern of animal life and awareness of climate change but also for health benefits.

A vegan diet is often considered health-conscious. However, out scientific findings indicate that a vegan diet does affect bone health.

A plethora of previous studies has shown that vegetarian or vegan diets, compared with animal diets, provide wide protection against many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancers linked to colorectal and prostate (Melina, Craig et al.  2016).

However, there is also evidence that shows vegetarians usually experience poorer bone health. A 2009 review of 9 studies found that vegetarians had lower bone mineral density (BMD), a risk factor associated with higher bone fracture, than omnivores (Ho-Pham, Nguyen et al.  2009).

How consuming a vegan diet affects health has also been the topic of recent research. A study from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has shown that people consuming a vegan diet had lower quantitative ultrasound (QUS) measurements compared to the people who consumed mixed-food diets.

The study results are published online on 21 February 2021 in the journal Nutrients (Menzel, Abraham et al.  2021). In the study, scientists initially recruited 161 participants during the period of January 2017 and July 2017. Finally, they selected 72 individuals, one of half of the participants consumed vegans, whereas the other half had mixed diets for at least one year.

Following measurements of calcaneal quantitative ultrasound (QUS) of heel bone along with several biological markers including the amino acid lysine and vitamins A and B6, the scientists found that vegans had lower QUS parameters compared with omnivores attenuation (vegans: 111.8 ± 10.7 dB/MHz, omnivores: 118.0 ± 10.8 dB/MHz, p = 0.02).

Also, vegans had lower vitamin A, B2, lysine, zinc, selenoprotein P, n-3 fatty acids, urinary iodine, and calcium levels, while the concentrations of vitamin K1, folate, and glutamine were higher in vegans compared to omnivores.

a typical vegan diet
Photo: UNSPLASH

Applying a statistical model, the scientists identified 12 out of the 28 biomarkers contributing the most to bone health. These biomarkers were lysine, urinary iodine, thyroid-stimulating hormone, selenoprotein P, vitamin A, leucine, α-klotho, n-3 fatty acids, urinary calcium/magnesium, vitamin B6, and FGF23.

By combining the results, the scientists concluded that the participants who consumed vegans had poorer bone health than omnivores. The study also revealed that a combination of several nutrition-related biomarkers may contribute to bone health.

“A vegan diet is often considered health-conscious. However, our scientific findings indicate that a vegan diet does affect bone health,” says BfR President Professor Dr. Andreas Hensel, in a recent press release (Fiack  2021).”

“Taking into account other scientific studies, the results indicate that vegans intake fewer nutrients that are relevant for the skeleton and are mainly found in food of animal origin. Further studies are needed for clarification.”

Related Publication and Further Readings

Fiack, S. (2021). “Does a vegan diet lead to poorer bone health?”   Retrieved 03/09/2021.

Ho-Pham, L. T., N. D. Nguyen, et al. (2009). “Effect of vegetarian diets on bone mineral density: a Bayesian meta-analysis.” Am J Clin Nutr 90(4): 943-950.

Melina, V., W. Craig, et al. (2016). “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets.” J Acad Nutr Diet 116(12): 1970-1980.

Menzel, J., K. Abraham, et al. (2021). “Vegan Diet and Bone Health—Results from the Cross-Sectional RBVD Study.” Nutrients 13(2): 685.

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