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Why vegetarians have lower risk of cancer, but weaker bones

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Why vegetarians have lower risk of cancer, but weaker bones

Actress Natalie Portman and other vegetarians avoid exposure to preservatives used in meat.Vegetarian diets can help combat cancer, according to a new study by Cancer Research UK.
Research published in the British Journal Of Cancer this month found those who adhere to a strict meat-free diet are 45 per cent less likely to develop certain forms of the disease.

Scientists monitored 61,000 people over 12 years and found that vegetarians were 12 per cent less likely to develop cancer of all types than their meat-eating counterparts. And when it came to cancers of the blood – including leukaemia, myeloma and lymphoma – the vegetarians’ risk was almost half that of meat-eaters.

A 2009 UK Food Standards Agency survey found that three per cent of adults described themselves as ‘completely vegetarian’ with an additional five per cent ‘partly vegetarian (don’t eat some types of fish or meat)’.

Researchers believe the protective effects of the diet are due to high levels of antioxidant vitamins and other plant-chemicals found in fruit, vegetables, grains and seeds, many of which have cancer-fighting properties.

Vegetarians also avoid exposure to preservatives such as man-made chemical nitrites, commonly used in meat products such as bacon, sausages and ham, which have been shown to be carcinogenic.

But there is a downside to a meat-free lifestyle. A study of 2,700 people by Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research found that the bones of vegetarians are five per cent weaker than those of meat-eaters. Low bone density can increase the risk of developing the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis, which affects half of all women and one in five men over the age of 50.

‘We aren’t yet sure why the bones of vegetarians were found to be less dense. Although it is known that those who adhere to a vegan diet – not eating any animal products at all, including dairy – can suffer from lack of calcium in the diet. Calcium is needed to build healthy bones and is found in abundance in dairy produce. But vegetarians generally will eat dairy,’ says Julia Thomson, Osteoporosis Nurse at the National Osteoporosis Society.

‘These research findings are new and need further investigation. Vegetarian diets contain a lot of mineral-rich foods and currently we have no evidence to show vegetarians are at any greater risk of fracture or brittle-bone disease than meat-eaters.’

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