If you aren't in good health as you age, you may find that your bones are getting weaker while your blood vessels are getting harder. In fact, the cells forming your arterial lining (called endothelial cells) may actually be turning into osteoblasts, cells that aid in the formation of bone.
As you can imagine, your arteries are no place for bone cells! You want supple, flexible arteries that allow for easy circulation. But you certainly want bone cells building up your frame, ensuring that it's strong and able to withstand a few bumps or even a tumble. Fortunately, there are nutrients you can take to increase the calcification of your bones and decrease the calcification of your arteries. Even better, the same nutrients work toward both goals.
You know that calcium is important to strong bones. But your body goes through a complex process to absorb calcium and get it to the right place. If you are deficient in a few key nutrients, this process won't work the way it's supposed to. Your calcium will end up exactly where you don't want it. And two nutrients can help you avoid this.
These nutrients are vitamin K and vitamin D. Not only does vitamin D help your body absorb the calcium and phosphorous you need to build strong bones, it also helps prevent the release of inflammatory cytokines that can contribute to vascular calcification. Vitamin D deficiency can increase your cardiovascular disease risk, and this connection between vitamin D and reduced arterial calcification could help explain this increase.
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In one study, researchers looked at patients who had low vitamin D levels, but no indicators of cardiovascular disease. They found that the patients' flow-mediated dilation in their arteries (an indicator of endothelial health) improved significantly after just three months of monthly injections of 300,000 IU of vitamin D3.
Vitamin K, for its part, helps the body to convert the amino acid glutamate into Gla-proteins, which are involved in blood clotting and bone mineralization. Without vitamin K, Gla-proteins can't help calcium and phosphorus bind together to make new bone. Another Gla-protein can be found in healthy arterial walls, where it works to prevent calcification. Without adequate levels of this protein, the arteries are more vulnerable to hardening.
One study of nearly 5,000 subjects in the Netherlands found that the third of participants who had the highest vitamin K2 intakes were 57% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease over the course of 7 to 10 years than those in the lowest third. They were also 52% less likely to experience severe aortic calcification and 20% less likely to experience coronary artery calcification.
For years, researchers have been trying to explain why calcium levels in the arteries seem to go up as calcium levels in the bones go down. Vitamin K deficiency can help explain the trend. Without vitamin K, Gla-proteins are helpless to turn calcium into new bone – or to defend the arteries from calcium's tendency to settle there instead.
It's very common for older adults to be deficient in vitamin K, particularly because our bodies don't store this nutrient. We have to consume it every day. Fortunately, you can get it in supplement form, or you can be sure to consume plenty of leafy green vegetables, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. And don't forget vitamin D. You need sufficient levels of both to protect your arteries and your bones. Ask your doctor to test your levels, and take a supplement like Ultimate Bone Support
(which contains both vitamin K and vitamin D), if they're low.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD