Vitamin K is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of bone-health vitamins: It gets no respect. No one talks about it. Instead, we talk about calcium and magnesium and vitamin D. But vitamin K, too, is critically important for building strong bones.

In fact, neither vitamin D nor calcium can produce healthy bone mineralization without adequate supplies of vitamin K. Bone is a complex living structure, comprised of cells, mineral crystals, and thick matrix proteins that hold the entire thing together like glue. Vitamin K actually activates a compound – osteocalcin – that acts like studs inside the walls of a house. It’s a structural framework that helps anchor calcium molecules inside the bone.

Vitamin K helps protect the bones against calcification in the blood vessels, a prime risk factor for a type of heart disease called atherosclerosis. In a well- known study of vitamin K – the Rotterdam Study – subjects with above-average intake of vitamin K had reduced mortality from coronary heart disease. They also had a lower death rate in general. The authors suggested that adequate intake of vitamin K2 could be important in preventing coronary heart disease. And in the Nurses’ Health Study of 72,000 women, those who got the most vitamin K were about one-third less likely to get a hip fracture. The effect of vitamin K in their diet was actually greater than the effect of synthetic estrogen – a double-whammy of protection against both atherosclerosis and osteoporosis.

By keeping calcium in bone where it belongs, vitamin K may help prevent heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. Considering the importance of this vitamin, it’s reasonable to ask yourself if you’re getting enough.

Researchers now think that vitamin K is needed in larger quantities than what was once thought, particularly in aging adults. Recently, it was shown that foods have less vitamin K than previously thought. Most multi-vitamins don’t contain any vitamin K at all, and the ones that do don’t contain enough for optimal health.

Vitamin K has three forms: K1 is found in foods, K2 is made in the body by intestinal bacteria, and K3 is a synthetic form available by prescription. All seem to work about the same. The best food sources of vitamin K are green leafy vegetables, particularly kale, spinach, collard greens, beet greens, turnip greens, and watercress. Broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, and onions are also good sources, and even an egg provides 25 mcg (almost one-third of what you should be getting daily). If you take it as a supplement, the K2 (menaquinone-7) form appears to be superior to K1.

[Ed. Note: Making simple changes in your lifestyle can help you stay healthy and live longer. For easy-to-implement, all-natural ways to improve your health, pick up Jonny Bowden’s book The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth.

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