Purpose of review
An increase in awareness of vegetarian and vegan (plant-based) diets has brought forth numerous studies on their effects on health. The study of nutrition-based factors affecting bone health is difficult, given the length of time before clinical effects are evident. Furthermore, population-based studies must account for strong confounding influences as effects may be because of association, not causality. Yet, it is highly plausible that dietary factors affect bone remodeling in multiple ways. Plant-based diets may alter macronutrient and micronutrient balance, may cause differences in prebiotic and probiotic effects on gut microbiota, and may subtly change the inflammatory and immune response.
Several recent studies have looked at plant-based nutrition and markers of bone health, using measures such as bone turnover markers, bone mineral density, or fracture rates. Although population based and cross-sectional studies can be prone to confounding effects, a majority did not show differences in bone health between vegetarians/vegans and omnivores as long as calcium and vitamin D intake were adequate. A few prospective cohort or longitudinal studies even demonstrate some benefit to a plant-based diet, but this claim remains unproven.
There is no evidence that a plant-based diet, when carefully chosen to maintain adequate calcium and vitamin D levels, has any detrimental effects on bone health. Theoretical findings suggest a long-term plant-based diet may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, through mechanisms that are currently speculative.