Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Micronutrient and Reprod. and Dev. Grps Sym. on relative contribution of diet and genotype to dev.

The relative contribution of diet and genotype to bone development

Ann Prenticea1 c1

a1 MRC Human Nutrition Research, Downham's Lane, Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 1XJ, UK


The present review addresses the relative contribution of diet and genotype to variability in human bone growth and mineralisation in the context of the aetiology of osteoporosis. Heritability studies indicate that 60–70 % of the variability in bone mineral mass or bone mineral density (BMD) can be accounted for by genetic variation. Cross-trait analyses suggest that a proportion of this variation reflects genetic influences on bone and body size, such as height and lean body mass. Candidate-gene studies have demonstrated associations between several genetic polymorphisms and bone mineral mass but, as yet, genotype determinations have proved unhelpful in identifying individuals at increased risk of osteoporosis. Variations in diet and other environmental factors contribute 30–40 % to total phenotypic variance in bone mineral mass or BMD. Correlations between intakes of individual nutrients and BMD have been reported, but these relationships are subject to confounding due to size. However, no specific dietary factor has been identified from prospective and twin studies as making a significant contribution to environmental variability in BMD or bone loss. This finding may reflect the difficulties in quantifying environmental exposures, both current and over a lifetime. In addition, the influence of diet on bone health may depend on the genotype of the individual. Optimisation of nutrition and lifestyle remains an attractive strategy for the reduction of fracture risk, but more research is required to fully define optimal dietary requirements.


c1 Corresponding author: Dr Ann Prentice, fax +44 1223 437515, email