By Margarita Nahapetyan
Vegetarian people have slightly weaker bones, when compared to their meat-eating counterparts, researchers have found recently. A joint Australian-Vietnamese study investigating the links between diet and the bone health of humans has found that vegetarians and meat-eaters are five per cent different in their bone density.
Until this time, the opinion of medical professionals about the impact of vegetarian diets on bone health has been based on insufficient evidence and a range of contradictory findings that mostly were based on studies too small to be biologically relevant.
Now, a team of international researchers thoroughly analyzed 9 studies on the matter, all of which compared bone mineral density of meat-eaters and vegetarians from all across the world. The studies involved nearly 2,800 male and female participants. The results revealed that people who lived on vegetarian diets had bone mineral density roughly 5 per cent lower, when compared to people who eat animal products. The study also found that the issue was most observed in vegans, who refrained from eating all animal products in their diet and whose bones were 6 per cent weaker. The experts say that this difference might not be a problem at all.
The principal investigator of the study Tuan Nguyen from Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research said that there has been a lot of debate concerning this issue. "Discrepancies in findings, inadequate clinical samples and poor comparative data led to the confusion," he said. The study new demonstrated that there was practically no difference between meat eaters and ovolactovegetarians (those who do not eat meat or seafood but include eggs and dairy products in their diets), Nguyen said and added that while there was a difference between meat eaters and vegans, the difference is still considered as insignificant.
The experts said that the question of whether or not lower bone density is associated with an increased incidence of fractures, is yet to be studied and answered, but given the rising number of vegetarians - roughly 5 per cent of individuals in the western countries - and the widespread incidence of osteoporosis, "the issue is worth resolving." Maybe 6 per cent does not seem like a big number to men who do not have to deal with menopause-induced osteoporosis, but when a person is getting older, any percentage is worrisome, the experts said.
Tuan Nyguen conducted the study in collaboration with the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in Ho Chi Minh City. The findings are published in the July 2, 2009 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.