Hidden Strength

While not as well known as calcium, vitamin K2 is just as crucial to building bone.

March 2015

by Lisa James


If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it a million times: Calcium helps build strong bones. And certainly no one is suggesting that statement is wrong.

It is incomplete, however. Researchers now know that several nutrients help maintain skeletal strength, including a vitamin called K2.

Constant Renewal

Bone doesn’t simply stop growing when you reach adulthood. Instead, bone is renewed, or remodeled, throughout your lifetime following a carefully choreographed procedure.

In the activation phase, the body forms cells called osteoclasts; in the resorption phase, these cells break down old bone. In the reversal phase, the body then calls upon other cells, known as osteoblasts. Osteoblasts produce fresh bone during the formation phase, after which the new tissue is strengthened by the addition of calcium and phosphorus.

Normal remodeling occurs to renew worn bone and to liberate calcium and phosphorous from the skeleton for use elsewhere in the body. But things can go awry, leading to excessive bone breakdown and/or insufficient bone creation. Osteoporosis, in which bones become weaker and less dense, is the most common dysfunction; it most often affects older women, especially those with petite, thin frames. (Smoking and a history of broken bones are also risk factors.) Osteoporosis is often preceded by osteopenia, in which skeletal strength (as measured by bone mineral density, or BMD) is lower than it should be.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, while another 18 million have osteopenia. Bone loss tends to advance silently until a fracture occurs, sometimes from stress as minor as coughing
or standing.

Calcium Traffic Cop

Vitamin K2 appears to influence bone remodeling in two ways. One, it helps regulate osteoclast production and activity, which helps keep bones from becoming weak. In addition, K2 (along with vitamin D) helps guide calcium into bone and away from soft tissue. The latter action is especially important for artery health, as calcification within blood vessel walls is a key component of atherosclerosis.

Researchers have found a clear relationship between vitamin K and bone health. Several disorders, including chronic pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease, have been linked to reduced bone density and vitamin K deficiency (Pancreatology 5-6/13, Nutrition 10/11). Genetic variations that interfere with proper vitamin K function have been associated with both osteoporosis and arterial plaque development (Indian Journal of Medical Research 4/13). And according to one study, vitamin K2 shows “promising potential” as a therapy for treating or preventing arterial calcification (Oman Medical Journal 5/14).

Vitamin K comes in two forms. K1 is readily available in many vegetables, especially leafy greens. K2 is created by microbes including those found in the human digestive tract. However, it’s unclear as to how much vitamin K2 is actually produced by our gut flora.

Vitamin K2 is also produced by the microbes that produce fermented foods, such as some cheeses and a Japanese soy food called natto.

Organic natto forms the basis for high-quality K2 supplements, especially when supported with an organic whole food blend.

Want to build strong bones? Be sure to get your calcium—but don’t forget your vitamin K2.

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