- Eating a plant-based or vegan diet has known health benefits, but it can also have a negative impact on bone strength.
- A new study examined the role of strength training in bone health in people following a vegan diet.
- The researchers found that vegans who did resistance exercise regularly had better bone microstructure than vegans who did not do resistance training.
- The study results suggest that people who adhere to a vegan or plant-based diet should do resistance training regularly to maintain bone strength.
A vegan, or plant-based, diet is an eating style that avoids all animal-based foods, including meat, dairy, eggs, and often honey.
Plant-based or plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular, especially veganism. A 2018 news report estimated that the number of people in the United States who identify as vegan increased by 600% between 2014 and 2017. Additionally, the Good Food Institute reports that plant-based food sales increased from $4.9 billion in 2018 to $7.0 billion in 2020.
Adhering to a plant-based diet has some known health benefits. A
Despite the benefits of a plant-based diet, there can be downsides. A
But new research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that strength training can be key to maintaining bone strength in people on a plant-based diet, even more so than nutrient intake.
In the study, Austrian researchers evaluated the microarchitecture of the trabecular bone and cortical bone of the radius and tibia in vegans and in those following an omnivore diet for at least 5 years. They then examined the relationships between these bone microstructures and diet and exercise.
The scientists conducting the study recruited 88 male and female participants for the research. They divided them into two groups – vegans and omnivores.
Both groups filled out questionnaires about what types of physical activity they regularly participated in. Those who reported doing regular strength training — using free weights, machines, or bodyweight exercises — at least once a week were divided into a subgroup. People who did not do resistance training were assigned to a different subgroup.
The researchers also assessed the study participant’s bone microarchitecture
After analyzing the data, the scientists discovered that study participants in the vegan group who did not participate in regular resistance training had significantly decreased bone microarchitecture compared to non-resistance omnivores.
However, the scientists found little or no difference in bone structure between omnivores and vegans who regularly engaged in resistance training exercises.
The researchers also found that bone structures differed between resistance-trained and non-resistance-trained individuals, and found more significant differences in the vegan participants.
In addition, study results showed that vegans and omnivores who exercised only aerobically or not at all had similar bone microarchitecture.
In addition, the researchers discovered that bone microstructure was not affected by how long a person had been vegan.
“Vegan participants who did resistance training exercises, such as using machines, free weights, or bodyweight resistance exercises, at least once a week had stronger bones than those who didn’t,” said study co-author Dr. Christian Muschitz, Associate Professor at the Medical University of Vienna and Head of the Department of Metabolic Bone Diseases at St. Vincent Hospital told Healthline.
“People who adhere to a vegan lifestyle should do resistance training regularly to maintain bone strength.”
In addition to strength training, diet can play a role in bone health for people on a plant-based diet.
Study authors report that protein, vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D intakes were appropriate and similar between the resistance training and non-resistance vegan groups.
However, they suggest that vegans consider supplementing with vitamin B12 and making sure they’re getting enough plant-based protein in their diet to prevent bone loss.
According to Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, FAND, professor of nutrition at Boston University and host of the nutrition and health podcast Spot On! healthy bones need other nutrients, including:
“Fortunately, these nutrients are usually very easy to consume on a vegan diet,” she said.
Blake pointed out that other nutrients known to promote bone growth, including vitamin D and calcium, may be lacking in a diet that doesn’t contain foods from animal sources.
However, it is possible to get these nutrients through a plant-based diet.
“One of the best plant-based sources of these two nutrients is fortified soy milk,” Blake said. “Remember that not all plant-based milks provide adequate sources of vitamins and calcium unless it’s fortified.”
The Austrian study suggests that resistance exercise is essential for bone health for people on a vegan diet. Kelsey Butler, MSc, a Registered Dietician and Nutritionist, agrees.
“Weight and resistance exercises are the most beneficial as they help build and maintain bone density,” she told Healthline.
“Examples of weight exercises include walking, running, jogging, and climbing stairs. Resistance exercises like lifting weights or using resistance bands can also help build bone density.”
Butler said adding balance exercises to maintain coordination and muscle strength can also help prevent falls and broken bones.
Although not specific to vegans, the
A vegan diet can benefit health when the right balance of nutrients from whole foods is consumed. However, if meals are not well planned, this diet can sometimes result in a lack of adequate nutrients for bone health.
According to the new study, people who eat a plant-based diet may have reduced bone strength compared to those who eat both plant-based and animal-based foods. However, the scientists found that regular resistance training can even out these differences.
Although superior nutrition is essential, scientists recommend that people who eat a plant-based diet incorporate regular resistance training into their lifestyle to maintain bone health and strength.