Not all vegan diets are created the same. Research indicates that well-planned vegan diets which are devoid of any animal products, including fish, dairy, and eggs, meat, and poultry, may be linked with many health benefits, including lower risk of obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer. However, shadows have been cast over the potential concern of bone health from eating a vegan diet. Some studies suggest vegans may be at higher risk of bone fracture, but the evidence is not clear-cut.
One intriguing study compared 105 Buddhist nuns who were lifelong vegans due to religious rule, with 105 omnivorous women from monasteries in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Researchers found that the median intake of calcium among vegans was lower, yet it wasn’t correlated with lower bone mineral density (BMD). ¹
It is important to look at the impact of veganism on bone health among children and adolescents. These are the most formative years of bone development and a poorly designed vegan diet during these times may be a risk factor for poor bone health.
In a study of one vegan family, scientists found that low dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D was linked to lower BMD, which was even more pronounced in the children. Though it’s important to note the small size of this study.² In a study of 50 vegetarian and 50 omnivorous children, markers of bone turnover were lower in vegetarian children compared with omnivorous children. In addition, calcium and vitamin D intake was two times lower in the vegetarian children. ³
Some experts point out that vegans’ bone risk may be related to avoiding dairy products, often associated with bone health. But the incidence of hip fracture — the most serious consequence of osteoporosis — is highest in Sweden and North America worldwide, where dairy intake is prominent. Hip fracture rates are lower in Asia, where dairy intake is much lower.4 According to a scientific review, calcium intake is much lower in Asia and Africa, due to the very low intake of dairy products, yet the prevalence of osteoporosis is much lower in these countries than in the United States and Europe.5 About 75% of the world’s population loses their lactose enzymes after weaning, raising the question about whether dairy products are essential to bone health.
When considering any diet, the best one for each person depends on a lot of factors. Some things to consider are gender, activity levels, age, current metabolic health, personal preference, and food culture.
Vegan diets may be good for some people while not for others. If you want to go vegan, make sure to be very prudent about your diet. Take the necessary supplements to make sure you are getting the proper nutrients you might be missing.
If you are getting the results you desire, feeling good, and managing to maintain to your health, then eating vegan may be the right choice for you.
- Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen PL, Le TT, et al. Veganism, bone mineral density, and body composition: a study in Buddhist nuns. Osteoporos Int. 2009;20(12):2087-2093.
- Ambroszkiewicz J, Klemarczyk W, Gajewska J, Chelchowska M, Franek E, Laskowska-Klita T. The influence of vegan diet on bone mineral density and biochemical bone turnover markers. Pediatr Endocrinol Diabetes Metab. 2010;16(3):201-204.
- Ambroszkiewicz J, Klemarczyk W, Gajewska J, Chelchowska M, Laskowska-Klita T. Serum concentration of biochemical bone turnover markers in vegetarian children. Adv Med Sci.2007;52:279-282.
- Dhanwal DK, Dennison EM, Harvey NC, Cooper C. Epidemiology of hip fracture: worldwide geographic variation. Indian J Orthop. 2011;45(1):15-22.
- Tsukahara N, Ezawa I. Calcium intake and osteoporosis in many countries. Clin Calcium. 2001;11(2):173-177.