Osteoporosis is defined as having fragile, weak or brittle bones as a result of tissue loss. It’s roughly four times more common in women than men, and the most well-known risk factors are low levels of calcium and vitamin D.
Many people regularly take dietary supplements of both of these nutrients to help them ward off osteoporosis and promote good bone health, but what about vitamin B12? Does B12 – or cobalamin, as it’s also known – have any effect on your bone health?
What Science Tells Us
It turns out that vitamin B12 deficiency has long been associated with osteoporosis, but little scientific research had been done on this subject until relatively recently. However, there is now a wealth of peer-reviewed evidence that low levels of B12 can have a significant negative impact on your bones.
A strong causal link has been established between B12 deficiency and osteoporosis. What’s more, average bone mineral density also decreases with lower B12 levels. And with weak bones comes the increased risk of breaks and fractures. Indeed, one study found that elderly men with low levels of vitamin B12 were much more likely to suffer bone fractures, especially fractures of the lumbar spine.
Unfortunately we don’t yet know for certain why B12 deficiency causes an increased risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. More research needs to be done in this area, but there are nevertheless a couple of good theories.
One study found that mice with low B12 levels suffered from growth retardation, and on average they also had fewer osteoblasts. Osteoblasts are the cells responsible for bone formation, so if these results hold true for humans as well as mice, then this seems to be a likely explanation for the B12-osteoporosis connection.
Scientists have also found that high homocysteine levels are correlated with poor bone health. Homocysteine (an alpha-amino acid) causes all sorts of health problems in large quantities, but vitamin B12 reduces the levels of homocysteine in the blood. So this connection with homocysteine could be another possible mechanism by which B12 influences bone health.
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. It’s true for osteoporosis as well – it’s easier to maintain healthy bones than it is to rebuild them. That being said, some B12-deficient patients have shown a remarkable increase in bone mass and density after long-term vitamin B12 supplementation.
Diet plays a huge role in preventing or treating bone loss and osteoporosis, with vitamin D and calcium being particularly important, along with vitamin B12, it seems. Taking dietary supplements to increase your intake of these vital nutrients is strongly recommended if you are at risk of either B12 deficiency or osteoporosis.
If you choose to take a B12 supplement, you can see our list of recommended supplements here. We always suggest that you choose a supplement that contains the natural ‘methylcobalamin’ form of vitamin B12, rather than the more common synthetic ‘cyanocobalamin’ form. You can read about the important differences here.
The other key component of bone health is exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise. Strength training and high impact sports like running are excellent ways to keep your bones strong. But they may be advised against for patients who already have osteoporosis as they increase the risk of breaks.
Eating healthily and exercising regularly throughout your life are your best bet for sustained bone health. If you do find out that you’re suffering from bone loss or osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about a treatment plan, as the solution will vary from person to person depending on a wide range of factors.
From top to bottom, images are courtesy of renjith krishnan (the first two), blackzheep, and Sura Nualpradid, all at FreeDigitalPhotos.net