For as long as we can remember, calcium has been known as the key to maintaining a set of healthy bones. Happily, calcium seems to be easily available nowadays with the major contenders being dairy products followed by various leafy greens, seafood, legumes, and certain fruits and not forgetting calcium supplements that are becoming a trend for many of us.
Bone development occurs every day of our lives just like the way we shed skin cells and grow new ones to replace them. Our bodies naturally remove (resorption) old bones and replace (absorption) them with new ones via a process called bone remodeling and with this process, we get a new set of bones every 7 years. The pace of bone remodeling differs among individuals gradually slowing down with age.
To prevent diseases such as osteoporosis, resorption must be kept at balance alongside absorption with the help of calcium. Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races and is most commonly seen in women after menopause caused by low levels of oestrogen. The disease leads to an increased risk of broken bones with various risk factors such as age, gender, family history, hormone levels and dietary factors 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 bringing into limelight a whole new perspective of calcium’s regulation and functioning in the human body. The study found that women who supplement with 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 are revealed? What could be the missing link in protecting our heart and maintaining strong bones 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. Yet, this fat-soluble vitamin is absolutely essential to build strong bones, as it serves as the biological “glue” that helps plug the calcium into your bone matrix. Since their discovery in the 1920s, Vitamin K has been classified into a few types with K1 and K2 most discussed about. Vitamin K1 is a blood clotting factor commonly found in green leafy vegetables while Vitamin K2 is altogether a different cousin of the family, playing the crucial role of calcium regulation. Vitamin K2 is further divided into subtypes depending on the length of its structure.
Menaquinone (MK-7) is the natural form of K2’s subtypes found naturally only in the Japanese delicacy, natto. It is the form of Vitamin K2 within our body that we lack in diet due to the consumption habits of natto. 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 K2, calcium floats freely in the bloodstream and tend to deposit in the arteries making them progressively stiff and narrow (calcification), impeding healthy blood flow to and from the heart.
MK-7 activates bone building proteins that are dormant in its absence. These proteins function to bind calcium to the bones and teeth and also keep them from depositing in the arteries thus preventing arterial calcification and heart disease.
A 2007 study has found that vitamin K2 plays a significant role in maintaining bone health among postmenopausal women concluding the importance of consuming adequate amounts of vitamin K2 daily. Using the natural form of Vitamin K2 extracted from natto beans, a 2015 published study found that supplementation of Vitamin K2 decreased arterial stiffness among postmenopausal women. It is also important for women who are at risk of bone fracture to take Vitamin K2. Population based studies have shown that women in Japan who consumed the most natto have generally shown low rates of fracture.
Vitamin K2, Vitamin D3 and Calcium: A Winning Combo
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. Dietary calcium is linked to many benefits, especially bone health. This is why recommended daily intakes for calcium have been established. Vitamin D3, a natural form of Vitamin D, helps your body to absorb calcium, but vitamin K2 directs that calcium to your skeleton 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 where it needs to go. In other words, without the help of vitamin K2, the calcium that your 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 benefits while circumventing increased risk for heart disease.
For patients receiving oral anticoagulant treatment, it is recommended that they do not take Vitamin K2 supplements without consulting their medical doctor.