Vitamin K and Bone Health

Scientists are increasingly recognizing the critical role that vitamin K plays in building strong bones and maintaining bone health. In fact, three proteins that the body uses to form bone tissue – osteocalcin, anticoagulant protein S and matrix gla protein – cannot be activated without sufficient blood levels of vitamin K. Specially, vitamin K assists in deposition of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus in the bone matrix. Studies have shown that elderly people with low vitamin K intake have suboptimal bone density and are at an increased risk of osteoporosis. Additional evidence from several important clinical trials reveals that vitamin K supplementation – in cases of deficiency – can decrease loss of bone density and overall fracture rates. A 1998 study of postmenopausal women who ate one or more servings of lettuce a day (lettuce is a good source of vitamin K) were 45 percent less likely to have a hip fracture than women who are one serving or less of lettuce per week.

Another study compared the effects of vitamin K2 on bone mineral density to the effects of estrogen replacement therapy and vitamin D3 supplementation. Researchers divided 72 healthy postmenopausal women into four groups. Women in each group received one of four treatments: a placebo; a vitamin D supplement; hormone replacement therapy; or 45 milligrams per day of supplemental vitamin K2. At baseline and after six and 12 months of treatment, scientists measured bone mineral density in all four groups. They found that the women in the vitamin K and vitamin D groups had significantly less bone loss than the women in the placebo and hormone replacement therapy groups.

Safety

Nutrition experts consider vitamin K to be safe at recommended dosages. No tolerable upper intake level has been set, and vitamin K deficiencies are quite rare. Because vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin and excess amounts remain in the body, consumption above the recommended daily intake levels is not recommended and may cause toxicity.

Vitamin K Fast Facts

Uses and Benefits: Vitamin K is essential for healthy blood clotting and can help prevent infant hemorrhagic disease. Vitamin K also may support healthy bone mineralization and play a minor role in preventing atherosclerosis.

Sources: Dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale are rich sources of vitamin K, as are vegetable oils such as canola oil, olive oil, cottonseed oil and soybean oil. Some other fruits, nuts and vegetables contain small amounts of vitamin K.

Special Considerations: Vitamin K is generally considered safe, and there is no set tolerable upper intake. Consult with your physician before taking vitamin K supplements if you take aspirin (for your heart), antibiotics, anticoagulants, doxorubicin, laxative, high doses of vitamin E, weight-loss medications or warfarin (Coumadin).

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