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Calcium, Vitamin D, and K2 Are Essential for Bone Health

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    One of the important strategies for healthy bones is to eat the right kind of foods. A diet full of processed foods will produce biochemical and metabolic conditions in your body that will decrease your bone density, so avoiding processed foods is definitely the first step in the right direction.

    Eating high-quality, organic, biodynamic, locally-grown food will naturally increase your bone density and decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis. Along with your foods, your omega-3 fat content also has a major role in building healthy bone. I recommend krill oil, as I believe it’s a superior source of omega-3s.

    Other nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and K2, and magnesium, are also critical for strong bones—as is exercise, especially weight-bearing exercises.

    Recent research presented at The Endocrine Society's 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco suggests that the timing of calcium and vitamin D supplementation may actually influence how your bones adapt to exercise, and help decrease exercise-induced calcium loss.

    As reported by Medical News Today:

        "The timing of calcium supplementation, and not just the amount of supplementation, may be an important factor in how your skeleton adapts to exercise training... Previous research has shown that a year of intense training is associated with substantial decreases in bone mineral density...

        Experts believe that this kind of exercise-induced bone loss could be related to the loss of calcium during exercise. As blood calcium levels drop, the parathyroid gland produces excess parathyroid hormone, which can mobilize calcium from your skeleton."

How Bone Adapts to Exercise May Be Affected by Timing of Supplementation

    The featured research study indicated that taking calcium prior to hitting the gym may help keep your blood levels of calcium more stable, compared to taking calcium after your workout. However, the study did not assess the long-term effects this might have on your bone density, and this, of course, is of utmost importance for anyone interested in building healthy bones.

    According to the featured article:

        “[E]xercise-induced decrease in blood calcium occurred whether calcium supplements were taken before or after exercising. Pre-exercise supplementation, however, resulted in less of a decrease.

        Although not statistically significant, parathyroid hormone levels increased slightly less among cyclists who took calcium before exercising... The timing of calcium supplementation did not cause a difference in blood levels of a compound that is a biological indicator of bone loss. Both the before- and after-exercise groups exhibited 50 percent increases in the level of this compound, called CTX...”

The Critical Role of Vitamin K2 for Bone Health

    There’s plenty of controversy on the issue of using calcium supplementation to ensure strong healthy bones. It’s important to realize that calcium works synergistically with vitamins D and K2, so taking calcium supplements alone may actually end up doing more harm than good. Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue has authored a comprehensive book on this topic titled: Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life.

    Dr. Robert Thompson M.D. also addressed this important issue in his book, The Calcium Lie. One of the tenets of his book is that bone is composed of at least a dozen minerals, and if you focus exclusively on calcium supplementation you are likely going to worsen your bone density.

    Additionally you will actually increase your risk of osteoporosis. Interestingly, he proposes that one of the best practical alternatives is the use of natural, unprocessed salts, such as Himalayan salt, as they are one of the best sources of a wide variety of trace minerals.

    So, while the featured research is interesting, I believe it falls far short in terms of making a health recommendation that will result in improved bone health. And while the researchers argue that timing, and not just dosage may play a significant role in bone adaptation to exercise, I would add that nutrient ratios and combinations may be even more important...

    The researchers did combine calcium with vitamin D, which is important, but they did not address vitamin K2, which is critical. I say critical because the biological role of vitamin K2 is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth. It also helps remove calcium from areas where it shouldn’t be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues.

    Furthermore, if you take supplemental vitamin D, you also need to increase your intake of vitamin K2, because when you take vitamin D, your body creates more vitamin K2-dependent proteins—the proteins that help move the calcium around in your body. But you need vitamin K2 to activate those proteins. If they're not activated, the calcium in your body will not be properly distributed and can lead to weaker bones and hardened arteries. In fact, vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries.

    In a nutshell, it’s important to maintain the proper balance between all three of these nutrients: calcium, vitamin D and K2, as well as magnesium. Lack of balance between these four nutrients is why calcium supplements have become associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke...

    The optimal amounts of vitamin K2 are still under investigation, but it seems likely that 180 to 200 micrograms of vitamin K2 daily should be enough to activate your body's K2-dependent proteins to shuttle the calcium to and from the appropriate areas. Most Americans get nowhere near this amount though. In fact, an estimated 80 percent of Americans do not get enough vitamin K2 in their diet to activate their K2 proteins, which is similar to the deficiency rate of vitamin D.

How Can You Tell if You're Lacking in Vitamin K2?

    There is no test for vitamin K2 deficiency, but you can get an idea of whether or not you may be lacking in this critical nutrient simply by assessing your diet and lifestyle. If you have osteoporosis, heart disease or diabetes, then you're likely deficient in vitamin K2 as these conditions are all associated with K2 deficiency. If you do not have any of those health conditions, but do NOT regularly eat high amounts of the following foods, then your likelihood of being vitamin K2 deficient is still very high:

        Grass-fed organic animal products (i.e. eggs, butter, dairy)
        Certain fermented foods such as natto, or vegetables fermented using a starter culture of vitamin K2-producing bacteria. Please note that most fermented vegetables are not really high in vitamin K2 and come in at about 50 mcg per serving. However, if specific starter cultures are used they can have ten times as much, or 500 mcg per serving.
        Goose liver pté
        Certain cheeses such as Brie and Gouda (these two are particularly high in K2, containing about 75 mcg per ounce). While cheese from grass-fed milk would be an added boon, it’s not necessary for the cheese to be grass-fed because the K2 is not derived from the milk itself; it’s derived from the bacteria in the cheese. So what’s important is how the cheese was made.

    Fermented vegetables, which supply beneficial bacteria to your gut, can also be a great source of vitamin K if you ferment your own using the proper starter culture. We recently had samples of high-quality fermented organic vegetables made with our specific starter culture tested, and were shocked to discover that not only does a typical serving of about two to three ounces contain about 10 trillion beneficial bacteria, but it also contained 500 mcg of vitamin K2.

    Note that not every strain of bacteria makes K2. For example, most yoghurt has almost no vitamin K2. Certain types of cheeses are very high in K2, and others are not. It really depends on the specific bacteria. You can't assume that any fermented food will be high in K2, but some fermented foods are very high in K2, such as natto. Others, such as miso and tempeh, are not.