By Dr. Mercola
You may be aware that vitamin D and calcium are a powerful duo for bone health, including the prevention of osteoporosis. One of the undisputed benefits of vitamin D is that it helps you ABSORB calcium – this link has been known for many decades.
But there is also evidence that vitamin K, and specifically vitamin K2, is another key player in your bone health, and may be just as crucial in helping you prevent bone fractures as you age.
A Powerful Nutrient Trio to Reduce Your Osteoporosis Risk
A study published in Osteoporosis International has concluded that lifetime supplementation with vitamin K1 or, even better, K2, vitamin D3, and calcium is likely to reduce fractures and increase survival in postmenopausal women. Bone loss speeds up most dramatically during the first 10 years after menopause, which is the period when osteoporosis is most likely to develop.
Many are under the mistaken impression that a prescription drug combined with calcium supplements is the answer to strong healthy bones, but the regular consumption of a healthy diet, along with safe sun exposure and extra supplementation when appropriate, is likely to be far superior.
Theorizing that vitamin K might have a role in the primary prevention of fractures, researchers studied the cost-effectiveness of various interventions for preventing fractures in 50-year-old postmenopausal women. They learned that the vitamin K1, vitamin D3, and calcium combination could reduce the lifetime probability of at least one fracture by 20 percent, but adding vitamin K2 to vitamin D3 reduced it by 25 percent.
Vitamin K1 and K2: Which is Better for Your Bones?
In case you weren't aware, vitamin K comes in two forms, and it is important to understand the differences between them before devising your nutritional plan of attack.
- Vitamin K1: Found in green vegetables, K1 goes directly to your liver and helps you maintain a healthy blood clotting system. (This is the kind of K that infants need to help prevent a serious bleeding disorder.)
- Vitamin K2: Bacteria produce this type of vitamin K. It is present in high quantities in your gut, but unfortunately is not absorbed from there and passes out in your stool. K2 goes straight to vessel walls, bones, and tissues other than your liver.
There are several different forms of vitamin K2: MK4, MK7, MK8, and MK9. The form of vitamin K that has the most relevance for health benefits is MK7, a newer and longer acting form with more practical applications. MK7 is extracted from the Japanese fermented soy product called natto. You could actually get plenty of MK7 from consuming natto, as it is relatively inexpensive and available in most Asian food markets.
Few people, however, easily tolerate its smell and slimy texture, so oftentimes people who find natto unpalatable prefer to take a supplement. Most vitamin K2 supplements are in the form MK7. You can also get MK7 by eating fermented cheeses. There has been some remarkable research about the protective effects of vitamin K2 against osteoporosis:
- A number of Japanese trials have shown that vitamin K2 completely reverses bone loss and in some cases even increases bone mass in people with osteoporosis.i
- The pooled evidence of seven Japanese trials show that vitamin K2 supplementation produces a 60 percent reduction in vertebral fractures and an 80 percent reduction in hip and other non-vertebral fractures.ii
- Researchers in the Netherlands showed that vitamin K2 is three times more effective than vitamin K1 in raising osteocalcin, which controls the building of bone.iii
Why Vitamin K is So Important if You Take Calcium and Vitamin D
If you currently take calcium and vitamin D for your bones, it's important that you also get plenty of vitamin K2. These three nutrients have a synergistic effect that cannot be achieved when one piece of the puzzle is missing. Specifically, here's a simple explanation of why the benefits of calcium and vitamin D are largely dependent on vitamin K:
- Calcium: There is new evidence that it is vitamin K (specifically, vitamin K2) that directs calcium to your skeleton, while preventing it from being deposited where you don't want it -- i.e., your organs, joint spaces, and arteries. A large part of arterial plaque consists of calcium deposits (atherosclerosis), hence the term "hardening of the arteries."
Vitamin K2 activates a protein hormone called osteocalcin, produced by osteoblasts, which is needed to bind calcium into the matrix of your bone. Osteocalcin also appears to help prevent calcium from depositing into your arteries. So while increasing calcium is good for your bones, it is not so good for your arteries, which can become calcified. Vitamin K helps protect your blood vessels from calcifying when in the presence of high calcium levels.
- Vitamin D3: As mentioned, vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium, but vitamin K directs that calcium to your skeleton where it's needed. You can think of vitamin D as the gatekeeper, controlling who gets in, and vitamin K as the traffic cop, directing the traffic to where it needs to go. Lots of traffic -- but no traffic cop -- means clogging, crowding and chaos everywhere!
In other words, without the help of vitamin K2, the calcium that your vitamin D so effectively lets in might be working AGAINST you -- by building up in your coronary arteries rather than your bones. There is even evidence that the safety of vitamin D is dependent on vitamin K, and that vitamin D toxicity (although very rare with the D3 form) is actually caused by vitamin K2 deficiency.iv
How to Get These Nutrients From Natural Sources
Calcium, vitamin K2 and vitamin D3 are obviously available in supplement form, but you should know that you can also get them naturally from food and the sun.
Calcium, in particular, is better utilized by your body if it's food-based calcium. Good sources include raw milk and cheese from pasture-raised cows (who eat plants), leafy green vegetables, the pith of citrus fruits, carob, sesame seeds and wheatgrass, to name a few. Calcium from dietary sources is typically better absorbed and utilized than calcium from supplements, which may increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.
As for vitamin D3, exposing your skin to natural sunlight is the best way to get enough of this important nutrient. Vitamin D from sunlight acts as a pro-hormone, rapidly converting in your skin into 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or vitamin D3. The next best option is using a safe tanning bed to achieve similar results as that from natural sunlight exposure, and the third best option is taking an oral vitamin D3 supplement whenever natural sun exposure is not an option, then monitoring your levels to be sure you're within the therapeutic range.
Ideally, optimize your vitamin K2 through a combination of dietary sources (leafy green vegetables, fermented foods like natto, raw milk cheeses, etc.) and a K2 supplement, as most people don't get sufficient amounts of vitamin K from their diet to reap its full health benefits. You must use caution with vitamin K if you take anticoagulants, but if you are generally healthy and not on these types of medications, I suggest 150-300 mcg daily.
The Vitamin That Is 'as Good as Drugs' at Reducing Blood Pressure
One of the best parts about optimizing your levels of vitamin D3 is that you will experience a host of beneficial "side effects" – even above and beyond your bone health.
In research presented at the European Society of Hypertension conference in London, scientists studying the effects of vitamin D3 supplementation on heart health reported that they've found that patients with high blood pressure can experience significant improvements in their condition by taking only the supplement, without high-power drugs. The majority of the study's participants were deficient in vitamin D, and while scientists stopped short of recommending vitamin D be substituted for blood pressure drugs, they did say the study shows that supplementation with vitamin D was "as powerful" as the drugs.
Both vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 are important for your heart health, as they work together to increase Matrix GLA Protein (or MGP), the protein responsible for protecting your blood vessels from calcification. In healthy arteries, MGP congregates around the elastic fibers of your tunica media (arterial lining), guarding them against calcium crystal formation.
4 Steps to Help Protect Your Bones No Matter What Your Age …
One of the best ways to achieve healthy bones is a diet rich in fresh, raw whole foods that maximizes natural minerals so that your body has the raw materials it needs to do what it was designed to do. In addition, you need healthy sun exposure along with regular, weight-bearing exercise. To sum it up:
- Optimize your vitamin D3 either from natural sunlight exposure, a safe tanning bed or an oral vitamin D3 supplement. Check your blood levels regularly to make sure you're within the optimal range.
- Optimize your vitamin K1 through a combination of dietary sources (leafy green vegetables, fermented foods like natto, raw milk cheeses, etc.) and a K2 supplement, if needed. Although the exact dosing (for oral supplementation) is yet to be determined, and you must use caution on the higher doses if you take anticoagulants, if you are generally healthy and not on these types of medications, I suggest 150-300 mcg daily.
- Make sure you do weight-bearing exercise, which has profound benefits to your skeletal systems. My favorite is Peak Fitness but it is also very important to do strength-training exercises to produce the dynamic electric forces in your bones that will stimulate the osteoblasts to produce new bone.
- Consume a wide variety of fresh, local, organic whole foods, including vegetables, nuts, seeds, organic meats and eggs, and raw organic unpasteurized dairy for calcium and other nutrients. The more of your diet you consume RAW, the better nourished you will be. Minimize sugar and refined grains.