Osteoporosis Researchers Find Benefits In Vitamin B12

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It cannot be said enough: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of bone.

Approximately 40% of women and 13% of men are at high risk of an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime. When these fractures occur in older people, quality of life can decrease, sometimes dramatically. Osteoporosis is also associated with higher mortality.

Katherine Tucker, Ph.D., director of the Dietary Assessment and Epidemiology Research Program at the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, examined dietary factors in relation to osteoporosis. She and her colleagues uncovered a positive association between vitamin B12 and bone health, suggesting that vitamin B12 deficiency might be an important modifiable risk factor for osteoporosis.

"Osteoporosis is becoming a much greater issue now that people are living so much longer," she said. "Our study provides support for a way in which people can actively lower their risk of osteoporosis and help to preserve quality of life."

The investigators 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 lower bone mineral densities — putting them at greater risk of osteoporosis — than people with higher levels. The men exhibiting low vitamin B12 levels had significantly lower bone density in several areas of the hip; the women with low vitamin B12 levels had particularly low bone density in the spine.

"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 Dr. Tucker.

"It shows that getting enough vitamin B12 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 inclusion of breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B12 or use of vitamin B12 supplements offers additional protection."

(Source: Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 2005; 20(1):152-158.)

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