The secret to keeping bones strong and arteries clear is vitamin K2, a little-known super nutrient that fights wrinkles, Alzheimer's, heart disease, osteoporosis and more…intrigued? Let’s dig in. (1)
I just listened to a fascinating interview on The Ancestral RD’s podcast! It was all about Vitamin K2. They interviewed Dr. Kate Rhéaume-Bleue, a naturopathic doctor and the author of “Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life.” Compelling title right? She is an expert on K2 with nearly a decade of research devoted to it so it’s quite clear she is the source to trust.
I was truly blown away and actually listened to it several times. I couldn’t wait to share what I learned with everyone I know and especially all of you, because I’m sure you’ll be as surprised and inspired as I was!
When you think of bone health, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you don’t mention calcium I would be shocked. If there’s one call to action Americans feel confident about when it comes to health and nutrition it’s: get your calcium. We are a nation obsessed with milk and entire grocery store isles are dedicated to cheese and yogurt. It’s even all the rave now to fortify foods with calcium, like orange juice, non-dairy milks, and breakfast cereals presenting that more is better. But is it? Not really…
Going Paleo or switching to a real food lifestyle, many people are fearful of eating a diet that doesn’t contain dairy because they don’t understand where they’ll get their calcium and you may be one of them.
So where can you get it? Lots of places- my favorite being bone broth, but you can also get calcium in dark leafy greens, sardines, salmon, bok choy, almonds, broccoli, cabbage, blackstrap molasses, dried figs, kelp, nuts, sunflower seeds, and peas. If you can tolerate them, calcium is also found in legumes and lentils. There are plenty of options.
But is eating these foods rich in calcium ENOUGH to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis?
What do you think when I tell you that Americans have the highest intake of calcium in the world- through dairy and supplements but also the highest rate of osteoporosis?
Japan and China, countries that eat very low levels of dairy (and calcium) have the lowest levels of osteoporosis. (2,3,4).
Makes you think, right?
If taking calcium was the cure for osteoporosis, then we would be able to cure it by taking high enough levels, yes?? Instead 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and another 18 million have low bone mass, making them at risk for osteoporosis according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
So what is missing? The interview with Dr. Kate Rhéaume-Bleue opened my eyes and her findings will open yours too!
Calcium is certainly important. But it’s not the end all be all.
Calcium disorders have very little to do with calcium and more to do with a deficiency in fat soluble Vitamins D and most importantly K2.
(Fat soluble means you must have fat in your diet in order to absorb them, another reason fat is essential…like coconut oil, avocados, butter and non-lean cuts of meat).
So here’s the deal- we consume calcium in our diets and Vitamin D help us to absorb it. Once calcium is absorbed with the assistance of Vitamin D, D has no control over where it goes. Some may end up in our bones where we want it, but calcium can also end up in our soft tissue, arteries, kidney stones, and deposits all throughout the body. This isn’t good and is actually dangerous. (1).
*Dietary sources of Vitamin D: mushrooms, egg yolks, liver, and fish.
HERE is why K2 is so important- once calcium has been absorbed, K2 will take calcium and guide it where we want it to be, and keep it away from where we don’t want it to be. It has even been shown to reverse soft tissue calcifications (arterial calcifications). So while absorption and Vitamin D plays a big and necessary role, K2 is the most valuable player in the game, and frankly the whole operation won’t run smoothly without it. Is your mind blown yet? (1).
Here’s what else K2 does:
- Cell growth regulation, meaning cancer prevention and protection. Making sure cells don’t grow out of control.
- Influential in insulin sensitivity and diabetes prevention and treatment.
- Important for dental and oral health.
- Necessary for children’s growth.
- Increases testosterone, for men in particular.
- Prevention in the hardening of the arteries (heart disease)- which is essentially excessive buildup of calcium in the arteries.
- Big link between K2 and cancer prevention/ treatment, especially prostate, breast, leukemia, and more. (1).
To the point, there are serious issues with too high an intake of calcium, and a lack of K2 to properly assimilate it. There is also a risk with taking too much Vitamin D because you can absorb too much calcium when you lack the K2 to get it where it needs to be. Calcium doses prescribed are often too high, and extra calcium is building up in places that it shouldn’t be. People who take calcium also have a 20-30% greater risk of heart attack and stroke. That’s a frightening statistic. Vitamin K2 helps activate the proteins in the bone so they will grab and hold onto the calcium and keep it where it should. (1).
*If it is necessary for you to be taking a calcium supplement as prescribed by your doctor, Dr. Rhéaume-Bleue recommends it be well under 500 mg/day. Always speak with your doctor before changing anything with current medications and supplements you take.
Most people are deficient in Vitamin K2.
Unlike Vitamin K1, the blood clotting vitamin you may be more familiar with and is much easier to attain from the diet. We don’t recycle K2 in the body, and it’s very common to be deficient. The other reason there is a high rate of deficiency is that it’s quite difficult to get K2 in the diet.
So where do you get it? There are many different forms of K2 actually. The most common form is MK-4, abundant in grass-fed animal fat, specifically the herbivore animals: chicken, cows, and game. Some examples are, grass-fed beef, grass-fed dairy, and pastured eggs. Unfortunately our transition from feeding these animals their natural diet of grass, or bugs and insects in the chicken’s case, to grain-fed, our intake of K2 greatly diminished and deficiency rose.
This is another reason grass-fed over conventional meat is so important. Make friends with your butcher or local farmer, and ask questions! Always buy grass-fed dairy and pasture-raised eggs.
The other form of K2 is MK-7 produced by bacterial fermentation. It's found in natto, a traditional Japanese food made of fermented soybeans. I’m not a supporter of soy in general, but if you are going to do soy, a fermented product is your best bet, and natto is especially high in K2 (although I've heard it tastes pretty terrible unfortunately). Other great options, and more real-food friendly, are sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), and kefir (fermented dairy). It is also said that our own gut microbes makes some K2 from K1 -found in green leafy vegetables, yet don't count on this entirely since it's not as heavily stood behind.
*Interested in learning more about soy and why I don’t stand behind it? Clinical and laboratory studies link soy to malnutrition, digestive problems, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, and even heart disease and cancer. (5)
Want to know the best part of all? Supplementation of K2 is not toxic in high doses.
That is really excellent news and Dr. Rhéaume-Bleue recommends everyone supplements. 100 micrograms a day would be a sufficient amount for general maintenance according to Chris Kresser (a leader in the field of ancestral, integrative, and functional nutrition and medicine). (6).
My advice is to pick up "Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life," eat more grass-fed animal fat and fermented products, and speak with a practitioner about supplementation.
So now I'd like to hear from you...do you take K2? Were you aware of the importance of Vitamin K2? Let me know any thoughts you may have in the comments below!
You can purchase "Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life" and "The Whole Soy Story" through "books" in my amazon store here.
1.Rhéaume-Bleue, Kate. Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life. Harper; Reprint edition. August 27, 2013.
5. Daniel, Kaalya T. The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food. Newtrends Publishing, Inc.; 1st edition. March 10, 2005.
photo credit: testosteroneresource.com
Disclaimer: All information presented in this post is general information and not intended to be used in place of medical advice or treatment of any kind. Please speak with a doctor before you adjust any current supplements you are taking.