Vegan Buddhist nuns in Vietnam.
In Mahayana Buddhism (a form of Buddhism practiced in Vietnam,
China, and Japan), nuns follow a vegan or lacto-vegetarian diet. These
women, who have been vegan or nearly vegan for many years, offer an
opportunity to find out more about the effect of a vegan or near-vegan
diet on health. Researchers compared the bone density of 105 Buddhist
nuns to that of 105 non-vegetarian women in the same community. The nuns
had followed their diet for an average of 33 years and had markedly
lower intakes of calcium and protein compared to the non-vegetarian
women (375 versus 683 milligrams calcium; 35.4 versus 62.6 grams of
protein). Despite their lower calcium intake, the nuns' bone
density was similar to that of the non-vegetarian women, and both groups
had a similar prevalence of osteoporosis. Calcium intakes of both groups
were considerably below the recommendations used in the United States.
While both the nuns and the nonvegetarian women had a similar prevalence
of osteoporosis, we have to wonder if less osteoporosis would have
occurred if both groups had a higher intake of calcium. We also
don't know if there are other differences between the two groups
that accounted for similar bone densities, despite the nuns having
markedly lower calcium intakes. Perhaps the nuns had more sun exposure
and higher vitamin D levels, or they may have had higher intakes of
other nutrients important for bone health, like potassium and vitamin K.
Other studies have found adequate protein is important for bone health
(www.vrg.org/journal/vj2008issue1/VJ1_2008.pdf) and that vegans have a
lower risk of fracturing a bone if their calcium intake is at least 525
milligrams a day (<www.vrg.org/journal/vj2007issue4/
Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen PLT, Le TTT, et al. Veganism, bone density, and
body composition: a study in Buddhist nuns. Osteoporos Int 2009 Apr 7
[Epub ahead of print].
By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, FADA