Brittle bones are often thought to be an unavoidable symptom of ageing, but there’s plenty we can do to make sure our skeleton stays strong.
We spoke with exercise and nutrition scientist Kathleen Alleaume, who believes bone health should be a top priority through every stage of life.
“Bones are quite literally the support framework of the body, and with 206 of them, it’s no wonder they need some TLC,” she said.
“While it’s important to maintain bone health at all ages, childhood and young adulthood are the true bone building years – at around 30 years of age, bones have reached their maximum strength and density, which is known as peak bone mass.”
Kathleen added that a calcium-rich diet, safe sun exposure and plenty of exercise are critical factors in building strong bones.
“Eating foods regularly like milk, yoghurt, cheese and green leafy vegetables, combined with a safe amount of time in the sun for adequate vitamin D and a healthy exercise routine will significantly help your body achieve optimum bone health,” she said.
“More recently however, an emerging area of research is showing the effective role Vitamin K plays in maintaining and ensuring solid bone strength.”
Below Kathleen breaks it down for us to explain what this essential nutrient is all about.
What is Vitamin K?
Vitamin K was initially discovered as a nutrient involved in blood clotting1, but it also plays a central role in calcium metabolism – the main mineral found in bones.
There are two forms of vitamin K: K1 (or chemically known as phylloquinone) and K2 (menaquinone). Vitamin K2 is particularly important in the early years of life as it helps incorporate calcium into bones by activating osteocalcin – a type of protein which draws calcium into the bones, increasing bone mineral density.
The missing link in bone health
As we age, women in particular tend to experience a decline in bone density, especially after menopause, which may lead to bone loss or brittle bones. This condition is known as osteoporosis which affects almost five million Aussies2 . Over time, having brittle bones can increase the risk of fractures3.
The effect of Vitamin K intake on bone health has been a focus of scientific research, particularly when it comes to women who have experienced menopause. Some studies have shown an association between a higher Vitamin K2 intake with a decrease in bone loss or lower hip fracture incidence.4,5
While there is still so much to learn in this area of health, the body of research on vitamin K2 and bone health is growing and researchers are predicting a very bright future.
How to get all the Vitamin K2 you need?
As always, it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet first. The most common sources of Vitamin K1 in the Australian diet are found in plant foods such as spinach, broccoli, iceberg lettuce and canola oil, whereas Vitamin K2 is found in animal foods, some cheeses and fermented foods such as natto (fermented soybeans).
While it’s rare to have a vitamin K deficiency, it can be difficult to get enough Vitamin K2 because the richest sources aren't staples in Australian diets. If fermented foods are inaccessible, then supplementation is a valid alternative. From the extensive literature and most recent studies, it would appear that 180mcg daily is the optimum dose for adults.
Always seek guidance from a health care professional before use.
2 https://theconversation.com/why-older- people-get- osteoporosis-and- have-falls- 68145
5 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00198-013- 2325-6
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Kathleen Alleaume is an exercise and nutrition scientist.