B12 and bone health

Vitamin may ward off debilitating osteoporosis

An ounce of prevention, the saying goes, is worth a pound of bone.

An estimated 40 percent of women and 13 percent of men are at high risk for an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime. When these fractures occur in older individuals, they can decrease the quality of life, sometimes dramatically.

New research conducted by Katherine Tucker, director of the Dietary Assessment and Epidemiology Research Program at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, has found that vitamin B12 deficiency may be an important risk factor for osteoporosis.

“Osteoporosis is becoming a much greater issue now that people are living so much longer,” said Tucker, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “Our study provides support for a way in which people can actively lower their risk of osteoporosis and help to preserve quality of life.”

Tucker and her colleagues measured bone mineral density—a measure of bone quality—and vitamin B12 levels in more than 2,500 men and women participating in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. They found that both men and women with low vitamin B12 levels had on average lower bone mineral densities—putting them at greater risk for osteoporosis—than men and women with higher levels.

“This is the first large scale study of its kind to show an association between low vitamin B12 and low bone mineral density in men, and it confirms other reports of this association in women,” said Tucker. “It shows that getting enough vitamin B12 from meats, poultry, fish and dairy products may be important for both men and women in maintaining strong bones. Some individuals, particularly older people, have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from foods, however, and the inclusion of breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B12 or the use of vitamin B12 supplements offers additional protection.”

The research was published in the January issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.