Just yesterday I diagnosed a patient with osteoporosis. She’s a new patient, and I was surprised when she looked me in the eye and said I must be wrong. I assured her that her bone density was low and asked why she didn’t think the diagnosis could be correct.
“I’ve taken a vitamin D supplement and a calcium supplement for years to make sure my bones stay strong. I just can’t have osteoporosis… I’ve done everything right.”
I felt terrible for her. She had done well to take vitamin D and calcium. Her condition might have been much worse if she hadn’t taken such good care of herself. But she’d never been told about the third nutrient absolutely critical to bone health.
When it comes to vitamins, it’s likely you know your ABCs, and maybe even your Ds and Es, but how often do you think about vitamin K?
Researchers discovered vitamin K in the 1930s. You need it for proper blood clotting and for maintaining strong, healthy bones. Normally, the good bacteria in your gut produce enough vitamin K for you—and normally, any extra you need, you get from your diet.
Unfortunately, people’s eating habits these days are far from normal. With common dietary habits, neither of these sources are a sure thing. First of all, digestive problems are rampant. And often digestive problems are linked to too little friendly bacteria. So, there’s a good chance your main source of vitamin K is falling short, especially if you have an easily upset stomach.
Secondly, very few Americans eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as they should. So your secondary source of vitamin K probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either.
This leaves your bones in danger.
Why Vitamin K is Important and How to Be Sure You Get Enough
The proteins that your body uses to make new bone cells depend on vitamin K. Without enough vitamin K, your bones begin to lose density. Research backs this up.
In the Nurses Health Study, a long-term study of 72,000 individuals, those with the lowest levels of vitamin K were 30% more likely to suffer a hip fracture related to osteoporosis.
To be certain you get enough vitamin K, make sure you eat plenty of green leafy vegetables… a serving a day would be great. Spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, Swiss chard—there’s plenty of variety when it comes to leafy greens, so you can avoid feeling like you’re in a rut.
Next, check your multivitamin to see if it contains vitamin K. If it does, that’s great. If not, switch to one that does.
If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about taking a higher dose of vitamin K each day, up to 150 micrograms (mcg). Talking with your doctor is important because vitamin K can interact with some drugs.
By making sure you’re getting enough vitamin K in addition to your calcium and vitamin D, you’ll go one step further to making sure you maintain healthy, strong bones.
Mark Bromson, M.D.