There are so many nutrients that contribute to bone health, but one that fascinates me is a form of Vitamin K2 called MK-7. This “super nutrient” is found in select foods and is a great compound to help improve bone health and — as more and more research shows — heart and arterial health.
MK-7 rivals bone drugs — without the toxicity
First, let’s talk about MK-7 for bone. A study last year (Zhu et al, 2017) found that MK-7 stimulates bone tissue and osteoblast precursors; so clear-cut are the effects that one Canadian researcher (Schwalfenburg 2017) noted that vitamin K2 “may be a useful adjunct for the treatment of osteoporosis, along with vitamin D and calcium, rivaling bisphosphonate therapy without toxicity.”
Notwithstanding my own perspective on whether bisphosphonate therapy is effective, this is a pretty extraordinary statement for a medical researcher to make!
MK-7 for healthy hearts and arteries
The benefits of MK-7 for reducing arterial hardening and cardiovascular disease are being explored by researchers at the same time. The results so far have been extremely encouraging.
As a recent three year clinical trial using 180 mcg of MK-7 reported, “long-term use of MK-7 supplements improves arterial stiffness in healthy postmenopausal women, especially in women having a high arterial stiffness” (Knapen et al., 2015). More recently, a 2017 study in kidney transplant patients — who commonly suffer from vitamin K2 deficiency — found that 8 weeks of MK-7 supplementation reduced arterial stiffness (Mansour et al. 2017).
As the Zhu study of MK-7’s effects on bones noted, MK-7 assists calcium in becoming mobilized out of the blood vessels and into the bone. Less calcium build up in blood vessels can mean less arterial stiffness. Vitamin K, it turns out, is crucial to as many as 17 different proteins that maintain bone and cardiovascular health (Wen et al., 2018).
Vitamin K2 requires a healthy microbiome to thrive
But there’s another interesting facet to this story. Another 2017 study (Ponziani et al., 2017) showed that people with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth had higher risk of arterial stiffness.
Here’s the thing: Vitamin K2 is produced by our intestinal bacteria, and a healthy microbiome will produce enough to support both bone and heart health. People with bacterial overgrowth, however, have altered vitamin K2 metabolism. That is, the body’s microbiome can’t produce what’s needed to maintain health if the gut is experiencing bacterial overgrowth.
Where to find vitamin K2
So let’s suppose you want to increase your vitamin K2 supply, and you’re not sure whether your microbiome is up to the task. Where do you look for a booster of K2?
One simple answer: Cheese.
Long-chain menaquinones like MK-7 are quite often found, in the Western diet, in true aged cheese, particularly hard cheeses like cheddar or Swiss, which are richer in menaquinones than soft cheeses. However, as one researcher notes, “the actual menaquinone content varies substantially and is dependent on the type of cheese, the time of ripening, the fat content and the geographic area where the cheeses are produced” (Vermeer et al., 2018).
With vitamin K status as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, for those who can handle dairy, cheese (and also yogurt) can prove a valuable adjunct to maintaining heart- and bone-supporting vitamin K2 status.
If dairy is not something you can tolerate, look at fermented vegetable foods like natto, sauerkraut, kimchee, and the like. Just as the bacteria in your gut produce vitamin K2, the bacteria in fermented foods do the same. Additional high quality, natural MK-7 is available as a high quality nutrient supplement.
Knapen MHJ, Braam LAJLM, Drummen NE, et al. Menaquinone-7 supplementation improves arterial stiffness in healthy postmenopausal women: double-blind randomised clinical trial. Thromb Haemost 2015; 113(05): 1135-1144.
Mansour AG, Hariri E, Daaboul Y, et al. Vitamin K2 supplementation and arterial stiffness among renal transplant recipients—a single-arm, single-center clinical trial. J Am Soc Hypertens 2017;11(9): 589-597.
Ponziani FR, Pompili M, Di Stasio E, et al. Subclinical atherosclerosis is linked to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth via vitamin K2-dependent mechanisms. World J Gastroenterol 2017;23(7):1241-1249.
Vermeer C, Raes J, van’t Hoofd C, Knapen MHJ, Xanthoulea S. Menaquinone content of cheese. Nutrients 2018;10: 446; doi:10.3390/nu10040446
Wen L, Chen J, Duan L, Li S. Vitamin K‑dependent proteins involved in bone and cardiovascular health (Review). Mol Med Rep 2018;1:3–15. DOI: 10.3892/mmr.2018.8940
Schwalfenburg GK. Vitamins K1 and K2: The emerging group of vitamins required for human health. J Nutr Metab 2017: 6254836. DOI: 10.1155/2017/6254836.
Zhu M, Ma J, Lu S, Zhu Y, Cui Y, Tan H, Wu J, Xu Y. Vitamin K2 analog menaquinone-7 shows osteoblastic bone formation activity in vitro. Biomedical Research 2017; 28 (3): 1364-1369.
One thing we know about bone is that it responds to increased weight load by getting stronger. So the recent findings of an Australian bone clinic that studied women doing high-intensity weight lifting really shouldn’t surprise us. But just look at these results!
What happens when older women weight lift?
The clinic studied 101 postmenopausal women with a T score below –1; 44 were classified as having osteoporosis and the remaining 57 were considered to have osteopenia. A bit more than one-fourth of them had already had a fracture.
The women were divided into two groups, experimental and control; they exercised twice a week for at least 8 and up to 12 months, but the kinds of exercise they did were different. For the control group, a low-intensity, home-based exercise regimen that emphasized balance and mobility, but not heavy weight loading, was used. They did lunges, calf raises, and stretches with no more than 3-kg weights in their hands — common types of exercises recommended for older women seeking to maintain fitness and bone strength.
The experimental group, on the other hand, underwent supervised, 30-minute sessions of high-intensity resistance training at 80–85% of the “1 rep max” weight — that being the weight they could only lift only once with maximum effort. The exercises included deadlift, overhead press, and back squat along with jumping chin-ups with drop landings. These types of exercises are not usually recommended for older women, and prior studies of weight-bearing exercise for bone mass improvement used moderate loads rather than high loads, as in this study.
The bigger the load, the stronger the bone
The study’s results were striking:
• The high-intensity group gained an average of 2.9% BMD in the lumbar spine, while the control group lost an average of 1.2%.
• The high-intensity group gained on average 0.3% BMD in the femoral neck, while the control group lost on average 1.9%.
• The high-intensity group gained 13.6% femoral neck cortical thickness, while the control group lost 6.3%.
Some of the individual outcomes were truly amazing. One 59-year-old-woman who trained for a total of 12 months saw an increase of 10.5% in the hip and 8.8% in the lumbar spine!
I just heard about even more record-breaking gains from “C.F.” — one of our clients. Motivated to find a way to reverse her ongoing bone loss, C.F. — a 69-year-old woman — combined our Better Bones, Better Body Program with supervised high-intensity strength training. In just 1.5 years she gained a whopping 21.5% in the neck of the hip, 10% the total hip and 5.6% in spine — moving her totally out of the osteoporosis category! Her doctor was so astonished she called me to ask what we were doing. This is a bone density gain that is unprecedented and we will soon be make available to you the details of our client’s full program.
The benefits of high-load weight lifting for older women
Given that we’ve known for years that bone responds to the load placed on it, why hasn’t high-load weight lifting ever been looked at before in women?
As the authors of this study point out, it’s a common misconception that women with low bone mass risk developing spinal fractures if they use heavy weights or free-weight exercises — but this study shows that isn’t true. Only one woman in the study had any sort of injury — a mild muscle strain in her lower back that probably occurred from an error in technique (which is very important in free-weight lifting) rather than the amount of weight she used. Keep in mind, these women were carefully taught the proper form for lifting and highly supervised. Should you try a high-intensity resistance program yourself, be sure to work with a qualified training.
What all this tells us is that even in women who are actively losing bone, high-intensity weight-bearing exercise offers more benefits in reversing the trend than low- or moderate-load weight-bearing exercise.
At the Center for Better Bones, we view exercise as an important part of a natural approach to building and strengthening bone. Learn about our Better Bones, Better Body Program to find out how you can start building serious bone naturally.
Watson SL, Weeks BK, Weis LJ, et al. High-intensity resistance and impact training improves bone mineral density and physical function in postmenopausal women with osteopenia and osteoporosis: The LIFTMOR Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 2018; 33(2): 211–220. DOI: 10.1002/jbmr.3284
There are so many foods that boost nutrient intake and improve bone health, but one food that’s captured my interest lately is actually an herb — stinging nettle. Though many of us in North America tend to regard stinging nettle as an irksome lawn weed, the plant has a long history of use as a multi-purpose medicinal herb. Dried or wilted, and prepared in a simple infusion, stinging nettle is a fascinating option for women with osteoporosis.
Nettle is a nutritional powerhouse for bones
One of the important facets of this plant is its amazing nutrient content — including many key nutrients for bone health. Herbalist Susan Weed says that “[there] is no denser nutrition found in any plant, not even bluegreen algae” and after looking at the nutritional studies of this herb, I believe it!
Stinging nettle is rich in a multitude of amino acids, carbohydrates, proteins, flavonoids, and is a terrific source of many bone-building minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, silicon, potassium, manganese zinc, copper, and chromium) and vitamins, including vitamin K (an important bone builder), vitamin C (a key antioxidant shown to reduce fracture risk) and most of the B vitamins (Ait Haj Said et al., 2015; Segneanu et al., 2017).
Scientists have started to take a closer look at this nutritional powerhouse, and the number of potential medicinal benefits range from anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory action to immune boosting, blood pressure reduction, relief of rhinitis, arthritis and rheumatism, and diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention (Di Virgilio et al., 2015; Ait Haj Said et al., 2015; Segneanu et al., 2017). And, of course, its many nutrients have value for osteoporosis and bone health — but unfortunately, there’s very limited research in this area. What little there is does suggest that nettles might help maintain bone density during menopause (Gupta et al., 2014), so hopefully more studies will be undertaken.
Easy ways to give nettles a try
So how do we unlock the benefits of this multi-faceted herb? Susun Weed recommends making an herbal infusion using about 1 ounce of dried nettles (about 1 cup of dried nettles) added to 1 quart of boiling water and allowed to brew for at least four hours (or overnight) to extract the bone-supporting nutrients from the herb. Once it’s done steeping, you’d strain it, making sure to squeeze the soaked herbs to get every bit of goodness out of them, and then refrigerate it to use over the next few days.
Simply drink the nettle infusion cold or warm (reheat infusion to temperature of your liking) all on its own, or, as Susun Weed suggests, mix the infusion with a little fruit juice for sweetness.
There are abundant recipes online for using nettle or nettle infusion in soups, stir fry, or pasta dishes — cooked, the nettle compares in flavor to spinach. Here are some nettle-infused dishes one of our clients shared to give us all some inspiration:
Arugula salad with 1 cup kidney beans, avocado, hemp seeds, olive oil, lemon juice and ground red pepper; nettle infusion; watermelon.
Kale salad with apples, almonds, olive oil and apple cider vinegar; watermelon; nettle infusion
Tossed salad with blackened catfish, hard boiled egg and balsamic vinaigrette; nettle infusion.