At present, I am seeing a growing trend toward anti-veganism. I’ve heard reasonably well-educated practitioners declare that a diet without animal products cannot be healthy. Without relying on human research, they proclaim that a vegan diet is only suitable for Buddhist monks trying to reign in their sexual urges. All other vegans, we are warned, will end up asexual, infertile, weak, ill, brittle-boned, and riddled with acne.
My studies instead have taught me that humans are omnivores who can maintain their health on a wide variety of diets provided they understand their body’s needs and adapt their diet to satisfy those needs. This includes taking into account the fact that environmental toxins abound and have a dramatic, negative effect on our health. We cannot limit our exposure to these chemicals and eat a diet heavy in dairy, meat, fish, and poultry. As a result, we should not argue that people must eat animal products to be healthy without very strong supporting evidence. Ultimately, most studies show that a vegan diet can be a very healthy choice and even has the potential of being the healthiest choice. One of the few areas a bit in question is whether a vegan diet will tend to lead to osteoporosis. The most recent study on this topic says it will not.
This study followed nuns from some 20 temples and monasteries in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and matched them with a control group of women eating an average diet including animal products. All were healthy women over the age of 50 and were followed for two years. Ultimately, 181 women completed the study. Both groups of women were deficient in vitamin D with the nuns being almost twice as likely to be deficient as the controls (73% vs. 46% with 25(OH)-D less than 20 ng/ml). At the end of two years, bone mineral density did decrease in an age-dependent manner but this decrease occurred in both groups. The bone loss seen was similar to that seen in Caucasian women in other studies, about 1%/year.
In other words, the vegan diet did not speed up bone loss and did not increase the incidence of fractures. Instead, the study actually found that animal fats as well as the ratio of animal protein to vegetable protein in the omnivores’ diets correlated with significant bone loss at the femoral neck. This supports the theory that excess animal protein generates acidic waste that depletes the bones.
What was most interesting about this study was that it found NO correlation between dietary calcium, vitamin D levels, and bone loss. The nuns on their vegan diet only consumed 375 mg calcium per day and as mentioned 3/4ths were vitamin D deficient. The omnivores also ate a low calcium diet (683 mg/day) and almost half were vitamin D deficient. Nonetheless, these shortfalls did not have a negative effect on bone mineral density or bone loss in either group. Nor did they increase the incidence of bone fractures. This suggests that, contrary to current beliefs, vitamin D levels may at best only have a modest effect on the rate of bone loss in postmenopausal women.
This study, like most, was not perfect. It was small, it did not follow women for decades, and although it did not find an increase in fractures, it was looking at Vietnamese women who, unlike our population, do not suffer much in the way of fractures. But it does confirm that it is entirely possible to eat a vegan diet and have healthy bones; even on a low calcium diet.
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