We widely recognise the importance of calcium and vitamin D in supporting the health of our bones, but did you know vitamin K is also critical in structurally supporting your bones?
As we age, our bone mineral density (the strength of our bones) decreases. This decrease is particularly significant around perimenopause, menopause and onwards. This can lead to osteoporosis, a condition where the bones become more fragile, leading to an increased risk of fractures and falls.
Calcium, and vitamins D and K each play a unique role in the symphony of maintaining our bones; however, without one of these nutrients, the orchestra cannot function optimally.
Calcium is an integral component of bones and provides stiffness, whilst vitamin D assists the absorption and prevents the loss of calcium from bones and into the bloodstream. Vitamin K fits into this symphony by attracting and supporting the deposition of calcium into the bones.
Although true vitamin K deficiency is rare, studies have found that peri- and postmenopausal women with lower intakes are more likely to suffer from fractures. Although more research is needed, this relationship highlights that simply avoiding deficiency of vitamin K may not be enough in supporting bone health.
By adulthood, our bones have stopped growing; however, the body works to continually replenish and maintain our bones throughout life. This is where optimising your nutritional status of bone supporting nutrients can help.
Vitamin K exists in two forms; K1 and K2. As vitamin K is important for other processes in the body (such as bone clotting), consuming a variety of sources could be more beneficial; however, research is starting to suggest that K2 may play a slightly more significant role in bone health.
Vitamin K1 is found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and collard greens. This is the form we get most of our vitamin K from.
In the UK, dietary reference values for vitamin K depend on body weight. A couple of handfuls of kale typically provides enough vitamin K to avoid deficiency in the average woman.
Vitamin K2 is fascinating as it can actually be made in our guts by the beneficial bacteria that reside there, in addition to being present in foods that require bacteria to ferment, such as cheeses, kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir. Vitamin K2 is also found in some meat products.
To help ensure you are getting the most vitamin K from your food, fat is necessary in ensuring adequate absorption of the vitamin in the gut. Therefore, make sure you add in a healthy fat such as olive oil, egg, avocado or nuts to your meal, if eating a vegetable source of vitamin K.
Remember though, vitamin K is just part of the symphony. Ensuring your diet is rich in other bone supportive nutrients is necessary too, such as calcium, vitamin D and even protein.
Finally, as vitamin K is involved in a number of processes in the body, make sure to follow advice from your GP if you are taking existing medications, in case they may interact negatively e.g., warfarin.