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Does a vegan diet lead to poorer bone health?

09/2021, 01.03.2021

BfR study shows differences in bone health

The vegan diet is on trend. How this type of diet affects health is the subject of scientific studies. In a new study from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the bone health of 36 vegans as well as 36 people following a mixed-food diet was determined with an ultrasound measurement of the heel bone. The result: on average, people following a vegan diet had lower ultrasound values compared to the other group. This indicates poorer bone health. In the study, the scientists also determined biomarkers in blood and urine. This aims to identify nutrients that might be related to diet and bone health. Out of 28 parameters of nutritional status and bone metabolism, it was possible to identify twelve biomarkers most strongly associated with bone health - for example, the amino acid lysine and vitamins A and B6. The results show that in most cases, the combination of these biomarkers was present in lower concentrations in vegans. This could be a possible explanation for the poorer 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. Dr. Andreas Hensel.

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Nutrition plays an important role in bone health. This was more closely investigated in the BfR’s cross-sectional “Risks and benefits of a vegan diet” study. 72 men and women participated in the study. The bone health of all participants was assessed at the heel bone using ultrasound measurements. Information on age, smoking status, education, body mass index, physical activity and alcohol consumption was also collected. By using a statistical model, the BfR was able to identify a pattern of twelve biomarkers that play an important role in bone health from 28 nutrition- and bone-relevant parameters from blood or urine. It was shown that in combination vitamins A and B6, the amino acids lysine and leucine, omega-3 fatty acids, selenoprotein P, iodine, thyroid-stimulating hormone, calcium, magnesium and α-Klotho protein were positively associated with bone health. Conversely, lower concentrations of the hormone FGF23 were observed at higher ultrasound levels in this pattern.

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.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the German federal government and German federal states ("Laender") on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.

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