Plant-based diets improve health, strengthen bones, lower hip fracture incidence

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(NaturalNews) A diet high in plant foods could reduce the risk of hip fractures and prevent chronic diseases, according to a study conducted by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and published in the Journal of Nutrition.

The researchers focused on hip fractures, which account for the majority of all fracture-related morbidity, mortality and healthcare expenditures in adults over the age of 50. By 2050, 50 percent of all hip fractures worldwide are expected to occur in Asia, with the population of Singapore considered at an especially high risk.

Vegetables, fruit and soy better than meat and noodles

The researchers examined the lifestyle and diet of 63,257 men and women taking part in the Singapore Chinese Health Study, a long-term study of chronic disease risk factors in ethnically Chinese people living in Singapore. Other findings from the study have shown that drinking coffee lowers the risk of liver cancer and that eating Western fast food increases the risk of dying from heart disease.

For the current study, researchers looked only at participants from the Hokkien and Cantonese dialect groups. Participants enrolled in the study between 1993 and 1998 at the ages of 45 to 74 and were followed through December 2010.

The researchers identified two major eating patterns: one was rich in vegetables, fruits and soy, and the other high in red meat, processed meat and refined, starchy foods.

After adjusting for other risk factors such as age, body mass index and smoking, the researchers found that the 20 percent of participants who most closely adhered to the vegetable-based pattern were 34 percent less likely to suffer hip fractures than the 20 percent who adhered to the diet least closely.

"In our study, factors such as age, gender, body weight, level of education and smoking habit, which may be different in distribution among different ethnic groups, did not modify the effect of diet on hip fracture risk," wrote associate professor Koh Woon Puay, who led the study.

Although the study was restricted to ethnically Chinese adults, the researchers believe that the findings should apply to other ethnic groups as well. Associate professor Koh noted that studies in Europe and the United States have also shown that diets high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains increase bone strength and reduce fracture risk.

She said that the researchers plan to follow up with the study participants to better understand the effects of diet on aging.

"The mean age of surviving subjects in this cohort is now mid-70s," Koh said. "We are going to start a follow-up study of assessing their health in ageing to see how this is affected by the way they lived in their mid-life."

Vitamin K connection?

Although the Singapore study focused on overall diet quality rather than on any specific nutrient, other studies have suggested one potential reason that a diet rich in vegetables may be good for bone health: vitamin K, which is found in green, leafy vegetables.

One such study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, found that vitamin K is essential in allowing bones to absorb osteocalcin, a protein that protects them from fractures. Although conventional medical advice focuses on calcium for bone health, research is now showing that the role of osteocalcin may be just as important in fracture prevention.

The long-term Rotterdam Study also found that people who consumed the most vitamin K not only had improved bone health but also lower rates of arterial calcification and arterial death. This may be because vitamin K helps move calcium out of the blood and into the bones, preventing it from forming obstructions in the blood vessels.

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