As you get older, it becomes increasingly important to protect your bones. That’s because older adults—and disproportionately older women—often find that their bones become more weak or brittle as time goes on. “People lose bone mass or density as they age, especially women after menopause,” experts from Mount Sinai explain. “The bones lose calcium and other minerals.” Now, a new study has found a link between one particular dietary habit and risk of hip fracture. The researchers say that if you don’t eat this one thing, your chance of hip fracture could be up to 33 percent higher. Read on to learn which food may be protective of your bone health, and what diet could put you at risk.
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With an expanding population of seniors, falls and hip fractures are a growing problem that affects one in three women and one in 12 men over the course of their lifetime. Eighty-six percent of all hip fractures occur in people aged 65 years and older, says a 2010 study published in the journal Geriatric Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation.
This can have serious consequences for those who experience hip fracture—as well as their caregivers. “Hip fractures are associated with significant morbidity, mortality, loss of independence, and financial burden,” the study authors write. “In usual care, the reported one-year mortality after sustaining a hip fracture has been estimated to be 14 percent to 58 percent.”
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According to an Aug. 2022 study published in BMC Medicine, women who do not eat meat are 33 percent more likely to experience hip fracture compared with women who eat meat regularly. The study authors believed it was relevant that the average Body Mass Index (BMI) of the vegetarian cohort was slightly lower than that of the meat-eating cohort.
“Whilst a lower BMI is beneficial for many health conditions, being underweight can lead to insufficient fat mass, and poor bone and muscle health, which can each increase hip fracture risk,” said study author James Webster, MSc, a doctoral researcher from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds in England. “People with less fat mass have less cushioning during falls, and falls account for 90 percent of hip fractures,” he explained.
Though vegetarian women were more likely to experience hip fracture, they were less likely to report several other serious health conditions, the study says. “Prevalence of CVD [cardiovascular disease], cancer, or diabetes at recruitment was highest in regular meat-eaters, and lowest in vegetarians,” the study authors noted. In cases of these serious illnesses, having a higher BMI is considered a risk factor.
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Given the risks associated with eating a meat-heavy diet, the study’s takeaway is not to eat as much meat as possible in order to combat the risk of hip fracture. Rather, the study authors point to previous research which suggests that eating meat moderately or occasionally could be beneficial for bone health. “Other epidemiological studies have found that adherence to diets low in meat consumption, such as the Mediterranean diet and Alternative Healthy Eating Index, was protectively associated with hip fracture risk,” the team wrote.
If you do eat a diet that includes minimal amounts of meat, be sure to focus your nutritional efforts on getting enough protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and calcium. Regular meat-eaters reported the highest intake of these vitamins and minerals, while vegetarians reported the lowest.