A Vegan (No Milk) Diet Is Healthy for Bones

A Vegan (No Milk) Diet Is Healthy for Bones
by John McDougall, M.D.

Veganism, bone mineral density, and body composition: a study in Buddhist nuns by L.T. Ho-Pham published in the April 2009 issue of the journal Osteoporosis International found, “…although vegans have much lower intakes of dietary calcium and protein than omnivores, veganism does not have (an) adverse effect on bone mineral density and does not alter body composition.” This study examined 105 postmenopausal Mahayana Buddhist nuns, and compared them to 105 omnivorous women (average age of women in both groups was 62 years-old).  The nuns were randomly sampled from monasteries in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; they had been on a vegan diet, on average, for 33 years. The density of the nuns’ lumbar spine and femoral neck (hip) bones were found to be similar to those of the animal-food-eating women (omnivores).

The animal-food-eating women consumed twice the calcium as the nuns (682 vs. 330 mg/day). Total protein intake was twice as great in the animal-food-eaters (62.6 vs. 35.4 grams/day), and they ate 17 times more animal protein (34.6 vs. 2.1 grams/day). There was no significant difference in weight, height, body mass index, or exercise between the two groups.  However, the nuns went through menopause almost 2 years earlier (47.8 vs. 49.6 years). Most important, but not commented on by the authors, was the finding that the animal-food-eating women consumed far more calories (1486 vs. 1130 Calories/day).

Comment: The greater calorie intake of the animal-food-eating women indicates they were much more physically active and that extra activity alone should have caused significantly greater bone mineral density than the less active nuns. But that was not the case. The observation that the bone density was equal in both groups is testimony for the bone-building (bone-preserving) effects of a vegan diet. The greater physical activity in the animal-food-eating women partially compensated for the bone losing effects of the animal protein in their diet. Osteoporosis is primarily due to the rich Western diet. Highly acidic proteins found in animal foods tear down the skeleton over decades.

Bone loss is reversible by fixing the cause. Everyone, and especially people with osteoporosis and a lesser condition, osteopenia, should eat a low-acid starch-based diet (with some restriction on grains and legumes, which are slightly acidic) and exercise.  Focus on a diet plentiful in sweet potatoes, potatoes, winter squashes, with the addition of fruits and green and yellow vegetables. For more information on osteoporosissee my Hot Topics.

Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen PL, Le TT, Doan TA, Tran NT, Le TA, Nguyen TV. Veganism, bone mineral density, and body composition: a study in Buddhist nuns.  Osteoporos Int. 2009 Apr 7.

2009 John McDougall All Rights Reserved , used with permission
McDougall Wellness Center   P.O. Box 14039, Santa Rosa, CA 95402




  1. kaaren douglas said,

    July 2, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Just found a writer online stating just the opposite. Thanks for the great reference I can use for my own resources.

    Kaaren Douglas

  2. schuchmann said,

    July 5, 2009 at 10:28 am

    I think you may find this article interesting as well. https://happyhealthyliving.wordpress.com/2009/07/05/advertising-passed-off-as-research-confuses-the-public-again/
    Toward abundant life and health,

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