For as long as we can remember, calcium has been known as the key to maintaining bone health. Today, calcium is easily available in the form of dairy products followed by various leafy greens, seafood, legumes, certain fruits and last but not least – calcium supplements.
Bone development occurs every day of our lives just like the way our skin sheds and grow new skin cells to replace them. Our bodies naturally remove (resorption) old bones and replace (absorption) them with new ones via a process called bone remodelling. Through this process, we get a new set of bones every 7 years. The pace of bone remodelling differs among individuals and gradually slows down with age.
Resorption must balance absorption to prevent osteoporosis. This can be achieved with the help of calcium. Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races and is most commonly seen in women after menopause due to low levels of oestrogen. This leads to an increased risk of broken bones with various risk factors such as age, gender, family history, hormone levels and diet coming into play.
The Calcium Paradox
For the longest time, calcium was thought to be the answer to all bone health concerns until a recent study in 2011 shed light on contradicting results. It brought a whole new perspective on calcium’s regulation and function in the human body. The study found that women who took calcium to prevent osteoporosis are at higher risk of developing atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. Based on the study, for every bone fracture calcium supplementation prevents, it precipitates two potentially fatal cardiovascular disease events. What happens to our calcium needs now that the potential for heart diseases is revealed? What could be the missing link in protecting our heart and maintaining bone health at the same time?
Vitamin K2: The Missing Link
Vitamin K is often referred to as the “forgotten vitamin” because it is continually overshadowed by more well-known nutrients. This fat-soluble vitamin is essential in building strong bones and improving bone health as it serves as the biological “glue” that helps to plug calcium into your bone matrix. Since its discovery in the 1920s, Vitamin K has been classified into several types with K1 and K2 being the most prominent ones. Vitamin K1 plays a key role in helping the blood clot and is commonly found in green leafy vegetables. Vitamin K2 is a different cousin of the family that plays the crucial role of calcium regulation. Vitamin K2 is further divided into subtypes depending on the length of its molecular structure.
Menaquinone (MK-7) is the natural form of vitamin K2’s subtype. It can only be found naturally in the Japanese delicacy natto. Short of consuming natto, our bodies lack this natural form of vitamin K2. This little vitamin, MK-7, has been creating sparks of interest as studies have shown that it helps improve bone density while preventing heart diseases by effectively depositing calcium where it belongs – in the bones and teeth.
Without vitamin K2, calcium floats freely in the bloodstream and tends to deposit in the arteries, making them progressively stiffer and narrower (calcification). This impedes healthy blood flow to and from the heart.
MK-7 activates bone-building proteins that are dormant in its absence. These proteins bind calcium to the bones and teeth as well as stop calcium from depositing in the arteries to prevent arterial calcification and heart disease.
Vitamin K2, Vitamin D3 and Calcium: A Winning Combo
If you take calcium and vitamin D for your bones, it’s also important that you get plenty of vitamin K2. These three nutrients have a synergistic effect that cannot be achieved when one piece of the puzzle is missing. Dietary calcium is linked to many benefits, especially bone health. That is why recommended daily intakes for calcium have been established. Vitamin D3, a natural form of Vitamin D, helps your body to absorb calcium, and vitamin K2 directs that calcium to your bones where it’s needed. You can think of vitamin D3 as the gatekeeper, controlling who gets in, and vitamin K2 as the traffic cop, directing the traffic to the right direction. In other words, without the help of vitamin K2, the calcium that vitamin D3 so effectively lets in might be working against you
— by building up in your coronary arteries rather than your bones. Thus, calcium taken together with Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 may well be the solution necessary for bone health while circumventing the increased risk of heart disease.
For patients taking Warfarin, it is recommended that they do not take vitamin K2 supplements without consulting their doctor.