locomotor systemconsisting of bones and
joints is the frame of our body. On it are
anchored our muscles, with the help of which we
are able to move around and perform tasks which
would be impossible were it not due to the
suppleness of our joints and their wide range of
movements. Calcium, phosphorus, Vitamin D and a
host of hormonal, dietary and emotional factors
play a major role in the integrity of the
The delicate balance between
these factors permits many things to go wrong in
this systemfor instance a deficiency in
calcium will cause the entire matrix of the bone
to become weaker, or an upset in the Ca:P
ratio/product can cause demineralisation of the
bone. Under normal circumstances, if we adhere to
the norms of Nature this system operates
beautifully and permits us to achieve our life's
ambitions with the utmost ease.
when things go wrong, there are arthritis of
various types like osteo-arthritis (OA),
rheumatoid arthritis (RA), cervical and lumbar
spondylosis, etc., osteoporosis (softening of
bones) leading to pathological fractures of bones
and resultant morbidity, osteomalacia and a host
of other disorders. utmost importance that the
correct food be consumed in order to maintain our
bones and joints in a healthy condition.
studies conducted on vegetarians,
lacto-ovovegetarians, and omnivores have
concluded that there are too many factors
affecting bone mineral metabolism and hence it is
not possible to state dogmatically the
superiority of any one nutritional lifestyle over
another. There are points in favour of both sides
and both schools of thought have their
disadvantages. The calcium content of vegetarian
and non-vegetarian sources differs widely in
quantity and the form in which it is present.
There are many factors that affect calcium
absorption and these factors determine the amount
of calcium available. Hence the concensus is
divided on the superiority of a vegetarian diet
over a non-vegetarian diet.
examining the problem many important points
surface and come to the fore. The most important
observation is that when sulphur-containing foods
(e.g. meats) are consumed they change the pH of
the blood. So also do the fried foods, sour foods
and the spicy foods in our diet. But, meat has
the strongest acid load owing to its rich sulphur
content. This increases the acidity of the blood
which, in turn, demineralizes bones. This leads
to osteoporosis. Many surveys have demonstrated
that post-menopausal women who are vegetarians
have a higher bone mineral content as compared to
their non-vegetarian (omnivorous) counter parts.
Similarly it has also been observed that though
young Caucasian whites measure equally with young
Eskimos in bone mineral density, the older
Eskimos have a much lesser bone mineral density
as compared to an age matched Caucasian white.
behind this seems to be the diet of the Eskimos,
which is predominantly meat, the blubber of
seals, and fish. The high sulphur content of
these foods causes acidification of the blood
which 'melts the bones' in an attempt to buffer
this excess acid load.
it has also been noticed that there is a very
strong relationship between joint pains like
'frozen shoulder, cervical spondylosis and
arthritis of other kinds and the kind of food
eaten. Fried foods, spicy, oily foods, excessive
meats and refined foods like sweets,
confectionery, bread and other refined wheat
products are the main incriminating factors in
joint diseases. The kind of food leads to excess
acid load in the blood which the kidneys are
unable to cope with. Hence this acid causes
inflammation of all joints.
also initiates the formation of toxins in the
gut, which get absorbed into the blood and
increase its acidity. This, too, contributes,
along with other factors, in the development of
arthritis and bone demineralisation.
like oestrogen, testosterone, adrenocortical
hormones, thyroid and growth hormone also play a
very major role in the maintenance of normal body
structure and function. A strong link between
hormonal activity and the kind of food we eat has
been established in several studies.
perspective, a vegetarian diet, which is rich in
fibre and, in the uncooked form, contains a lot
of vitamins and minerals proves very beneficial
as it prevents constipation, removes toxic matter
from the gastrointestinal tract, thereby
preventing increased acidity of the blood. The
increased amounts of minerals and vitamins in
vegetarian foods contribute richly to the smooth
functioning of bone metabolism. The acidity
(sulphur related) of a non-vegetarian diet
initiates and perpetuates bone demineralisation
as seen by serial bone mineral density studies
done by direct photon absorptiometry. In contrast
the vegetarian diet which contains predominantly
uncooked food doesn't have this disadvantage.
However, fried foods, spicy foods and excessively
sour foodswhether vegetarian or
non-vegetarian are detrimental to bone and joint
It is a
common conception that vegetarians lack calcium
in their diet and as a result they suffer from
bone demineralisation leading to osteoporosis and
osteomalacia. This is not true in the case of a
lacto-vegetarian because milk and its products
are a very rich source of calcium which is easily
available to man. However, there are reports and
it is our experience that as age advances the
digestion of milk becomes more and more difficult
owing to decreased gastric acid,enzyme content.
The maldigestion of milk not only gives
gastrointestinal discomfort but also gives an
increased acid burden to the body which leads to
joint pains and aggravation of arthritis. Cottage
cheese (also known as paneer, clabbered milk,
kefir) and whey (the water obtained during the
preparation of cottage cheese) are excellent
calcium sources for a vegetarian and are much
less toxic than the nonvegetarian sources of
the available data shows that vegetarian diets by
virtue of their:
vitamin and mineral content,
in preventing and, to a certain extent, relieving
the pain and progression of arthritis and bone
demineralisation. Owing to the high fibre content
vegetarians are rarely constipated and this helps
a lot in healthy bone and joint metabolism.
Furthermore the reduced acid load and increased
vitamin and mineral content of vegetarian food
makes it the preferred food for preventing joint
and bone complications.
Sources of Calcium
in order of preference
- Cow 's
- Buffalo 's
cheese (paneer, clabbered rnilk)
(though bound to phytate)
especially Sesame (Til), Sunflower
beans and their products like TOFU
that Hinder or Block Calcium Absorption
containing oxalic acids
e.g. spinach, lotus stem, horsegram
of Vit. D.
e.g. excessive consumption of
protein-rich foods like meat, fish,
poultry, eggs, etc
use of common salt
use of alcohol
use of coffee
use of soft drinks containing phosphorus
use of fat
analysis of the risk factors of osteoporosis
shows that statistically vegetarians have a
lesser risk of bone disease because of certain
traits e.g. the decreased incidence of tobacco
use, alcoholism, obesity, constipation and
hormonal (especially oestrogen) imbalance amongst
Hence it is
evident that vegetarian diets do offer
substantial protection from bone and joint
disease provided adequate care is taken to meet
the daily calcium, protein and vitamin
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North Alaskan Eskimos. Am. J. Clin. Nutr.
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T.V. Mickeisen O., Marsh A.G., Garn S.M.,
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vegetarian and omnivorous females. In:
Mazess RB, ed. Proceedings of the fourth
international conference on bone
measurement. Bethesda, MD : NIAMMD 1980:
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A.G., Sanchez T.V., Mickelsen O., Keiser
J. Mayor G. Cortical bone density of
adult lacto-ovo-vegetarian and omnivorous
women. J. Am. Diet Assoc. 1980, 76:
A.A., Bou E., Bartter F.C., West F. Acute
effects of dietary protein on calcium
metabolism in patients with osteoporosis.
J. Gerontol 1981, 36: 14-9.
A., Bernstein D.S. Diet and osteoporosis.
Lancet 1968, 1: 958-9.
A.G., et al: Vegetarian lifestyle and
bone mineral density: Amer. J. Clin.
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C. Nutritive value of Indian foods.
National Institute of Nutrition,
Bernard. Arthritis, Rheumatism and
Osteoporosis: Correction through