London, Aug 11 : Women who are vegetarian are more likely to experience hip fractures in later life than those who frequently eat meat, a UK study has found.
Researchers analysed health and diet records from more than 26,000 women and found that over a roughly 22-year period, vegetarians were a third more likely to break a hip than those who regularly ate meat, the Guardian reported.
The reasons for the greater risk are unclear but researchers suspect some vegetarians may not get sufficient nutrients for good bone and muscle health, leaving them prone to falls and fractures.
"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," said James Webster, a researcher at the University of Leeds.
Vegetarian diets are often considered healthier than the ones that contain meat and they can reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and certain cancers.
But the study published in BMC Medicine highlights the importance of a balanced diet whatever people eat, the Guardian reported.
"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 and both of those things predispose people to hip fractures," Webster said.
About 90 per cent of hip fractures are linked to falls, which are more common in older people, who tend to be more frail and have weaker bones.
But fractures can often drive further frailty, which increases the risk of more falls and worse frailty.
The researchers suspect vegetarians are more likely to be underweight than meat eaters, and that beyond having weaker bones and muscles may also have less fat, which can act as a cushion when people fall, the Guardian reported.
Given the findings, Webster said vegetarians may want to consider eating fortified cereals with added iron and B12 for bone health, and to ensure they are getting enough protein, through foods such as nuts, legumes and beans.