On Monday I wrote generally about bone health. Today I wanted to highlight the relatively recent research linking various B vitamins to bone health and strength.
Scientists have been interested in preventing heart disease with the use of B vitamins for a while now. This stems from the mounting research which suggests that elevated homocysteine levels are a risk factor for heart disease.
Homocysteine is produced when the amino acid (the building blocks of protein) methionine is broken down in the body. Normal levels of homocysteine are important to help build and maintain body tissues, however elevated concentrations in the blood can be harmful and have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and other disorders. At normal levels homocystein can be converted in the body into a harmless substance called cystanthionine. The conversion of homocysteine into this harmless substance depends upon various B vitamins (B6, B12 and folic acid). Having good levels of these B vitamins appears to be a very good way of preventing high homocysteine levels and low levels of B vitamins have been associated with raised homocysteine levels
Just recently research has been published (2,3) which suggests that B vitamins may also be important for the health of our bones and that elevated homocysteine levels may be implicated in bone deterioration.
In one study (2) the researchers wanted to examine the associations of blood plasma concentrations of folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and homocysteine with bone loss and hip fracture risk in elderly men and women. The study included a total of 1002 men and women with the average age of 75, their blood levels of B vitamins were measured at the start of the study and they were followed for 4 years. Bone loss was associated with low vitamin B6 levels and low levels of vitamins B12 and B6 were associated with hip fracture risk. The participants with high homocysteine levels also had a higher risk for hip fracture.
The study suggests that both low vitamin B status and high homocysteine levels may be a risk factor for hip fracture. The authors of the study conclude that it is not entirely clear why or how B vitamins or homocysteine are related to bone health or fracture risk and that clinical trials with B vitamin supplements may help to provide more information.
I find the results of the study very interesting as they highlight another area where nutrition is linked to health. An overall healthy diet rich in a variety of unprocessed foods really does provide nutrients to all cells in the body. Bones rely on essential nutrients as much as any other part of us! All the cells in our body require regular, good supplies of the whole spectrum of nutrients. A healthy diet really is important for so many reasons!
Vitamin B6 is found in foods like potatoes, bananas, beans and chickpeas, avocados, fish and poultry. Vitamin B12 is found mainly in meat, fish and poultry. Eggs and cheese also contain B12 as does brewer’s yeast. Many vegetarians and vegans have very low intakes of this vital nutrient and may wish to consider a multi-B vitamin supplement. Folic acid is found in beans, green vegetables and wholegrains. If you decide you would like to take a vitamin B supplement I would always suggest a broad spectrum supplement that supplies adequate, but not megadose, levels of all of the B vitamins (not single nutrient supplements), these vitamins work best together as a team!
(1)The National Osteoporosis Society
(2)McLean R et al. 2008. Plasma B Vitamins, Homocysteine, and Their Relation with Bone Loss and Hip Fracture in Elderly Men and Women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 93: 2206-2212
(3)Cagnacci A et al. 2008. Relation of folates, vitamin B12 and homocysteine to vertebral bone mineral density change in postmenopausal women. A five-year longitudinal evaluation. Bone. 42(2):314-20.
Written by Ani Kowal