EPIC health study has mixed news for vegans

November 4, 2008

Some vegans aren’t getting enough calcium and suffering more broken bones, says research by long-term nutrition study  EPIC Oxford. The project at Oxford University has been following the food and health of over 65,000 people since 1993. Bill went to the September 2008 meeting of London Vegans – and talked to dietician Marty Davey – to find out more.

Audio Download internet radio report (4 mins 53 secs): London Vegans are told that they are slimmer, but might lack calcium – MP3 – other sound file formats

(This is a pilot podcast. Your feedback is welcome.)


For more information, you can download Paul Appleby’s slides from the talk as a Powerpoint file or a PDF.

For more about getting enough Calcium, see:

Thanks to friends for feedback and help, to contributors (including Dr Stephen Walsh for an interview which was not used),  and to London Vegans for allowing us to record at their “last Wednesday” meeting.

If you appreciated this podcast, you can easily subscribe to future Verdant Reports podcasts here.


6 Responses to “EPIC health study has mixed news for vegans”

  1. Hi,

    The EPIC report was pretty interesting. I wasn’t surprised to hear about severe calcium deficiency in vegans who eat a sub-optimal diet (beer & potatoes).

    I know about Vit C & calcium absorption, and would have liked to hear more about the connection between Vit. D and calcium.

    With sedentary indoor lifestyles, lack of sun exposure to stimulate production of Vit D is becoming a serious health issue, esp for vegans who don’t want to take fish liver oil or supplements derived from it. It’d be interesting to compare calcium absorption in vegans who don’t get much sun with those who do.

    On Savvy Vegetarian, I’m constantly harping on the need for vegetarians and vegans to make every bite count, nutritionally. I hear from many new vegans who are experiencing mild to severe signs of malnutrition, which show up quite quickly – often within a month or two.

    It seems to me that if you go from one substandard diet to another that’s vegan, you just get sicker. I’ve wondered if eating animal foods tends to mask underlying dietary imbalances (no whole grains, or fresh fruit, colored veggies, nuts or other raw foods, etc), which become obvious as soon as people stop eating meat, chicken or fish.

    I’d appreciate a response about all this from Marty Davey. Thanks! J.K., Savvy Veg

  2. One more thing. I’ve heard from a number of sources that lack of calcium alone isn’t responsible for bone loss, that magnesium, boron, zinc & other minerals also play a part, in addition to lifestyle. Which re-enforces my view that nutrition is holistic, and it won’t help to just down a calcium tablet every day.

  3. Bill Says:

    Hi Judith,

    Thank you for writing and sharing.

    Verdant Reports aims to produce five minute reports – and to produce an interesting five minutes, that means a tight focus. So we did not have time to go into more detail on vitamin D or the other nutrients which affect absorption.

    Information on nutrition in general is available elsewhere from more qualified sources, so I will not try to respond to you on those.

    Marty Davey was a guest, and there’s no guarantee that she will answer questions here. Though I would be delighted if she did.



  4. Vitamin D assists with bone development in at least three ways. The first is in genetics.

    Vitamin D3 assists in the genetics of bone formation with coding our messenger RNA [ mRNA]. Calcitriol, [another name for vitamin D3], reacts in the nucleus of a cell to create messenger RNA [mRNA], specifically the promoter region of a gene. Think of the promoter regions as an old printing office where there are two printing presses. The presses are across the room from each other. A printing plate would be created for the text to be printed. A “messenger” would help create the second plate, and make it exactly like the first. Also the messenger would take the second plate to the second printing press to print the same text. The messenger is messenger RNA [mRNA]. The mRNA brings the “printing plates” for synthesizing proteins that increase absorption of calcium.

    Without vitamin D3, our genetic copy machine would be printing out paper with black smudges instead of readable text.

    Secondarily, this genetic promotion stimulates formation of an important bone protein, Osteocalcin. You may remember that Osteo- means bone. Osteocalcin is the chief noncollagenous protein of bone matrix, and leads to bone development. Evidence shows that without vitamin D3 [calcitriol] it’s just not going to happen.

    Although the exact job of osteocalcin is not specifically known, we do know that osteocalcin is made by osteoblasts. Osteoblasts are cells that make bone cells. One way to remember the word, osteoblast is by thinking blasting out, or forming new bone cells. Stimulating the creation of bone cells is going to increase bone health. Osteocalcin is also used to specify bone health by measuring how much is present in your circulatory system.

    Lastly, the presence of vitamin D3 itself signals calcium absorption in the intestines. This process of intestinal absorption is called transcaltachia. Transcaltachia is separate from the genetic use of calcitriol for calcium absorption. Your body has a whole electronic system that does a number of jobs including calcium absorption. The specific electronic impulse, assisted by calcitriol, opens calcium channels and allows the calcium to enter.

    Here is the take home message – The presence of vitamin D3 at the time of calcium absorption in the intestines directly increases absorption [transcaltachia], and indirectly increases absorption through cellular genetics [mRNA and osteocalcin].

  5. […] EPIC health study has mixed news for vegans […]

  6. […] paper on cancer incidence. The team have a particular interest in vegetarians and vegans, and I reported their results in my 2008 podcast short at Verdant […]

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