I’ve been thinking a lot about calcium lately. Our bodies need this mineral to build and maintain bones and teeth. Calcium also helps with blood clotting, muscle function, and regulation of the heart’s rhythm.
We’ve had it hammered home since we were in grade school that increasing calcium intake will prevent osteoporosis, the weakening of bones. We’ve been told to take calcium supplements if we don’t get enough calcium in our diet.
Yet, we have a very high calcium intake in the U.S. and also high osteoporosis rates, plus, calcium supplements are linked to heart disease (1). What gives?
It has to do with calcification, calcium buildup in the body’s tissues. Along with reduced metabolic rate, calcification is a hallmark sign of aging.
Examples of calcification:
- Atherosclerosis: calcification of blood vessels
- Osteoarthritis: calcification of joints
- Tartar: calcification on the teeth
- Gallstones/kidney stones: caused by calcium deposits
- Infertility: sometimes caused by endometrial calcification
- Alzheimer’s: evidence is mounting brain calcification contributes
- And so many more!
When you consume calcium, regardless of if through food or supplements, you hope it will be deposited in the bones and teeth, right? Well without a critical vitamin in your diet to direct calcium, it often winds up in the body’s tissues instead. So you could conceivably have a high dietary calcium intake or take calcium supplements, and still wind up with osteoporosis and heart disease to boot. Sucks, right?
So what’s this critical vitamin? Vitamin K2, not to be confused with the Vitamin K1 that is found in dark leafy greens. K1’s main role is in blood clotting, while K2’s main role is calcium metabolism. K2 activates certain proteins that guide calcium into bones and teeth where it belongs. And even cooler? K2 will activate other proteins that sweep calcium OUT of other tissues where it is potentially harmful. So you could potentially REVERSE heart disease just by getting enough of this crucial vitamin (2).
Other potential benefits? Better teeth. Weston A. Price (3) was a dentist who embarked on an medical anthropology trip around the world in the 1930’s to study how diet and lifestyle affected dental health. He found cultures with straight, beautiful, healthy teeth and deduced what they had in common. He has been called the “Charles Darwin of Nutrition,” since much of what he discovered looks at how food and food quality affect health in general. If you haven’t read his 1939 book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” a nutrition classic in my opinion, pick it up for the photos alone! Anyways, Price is credited with discovering Vitamin K2, although at the time, he had no idea what it was. He called it Activator X.
He realized that humans are capable of thriving on very diverse diets. However, he did find one thing in common: they all ate some amount of animal-derived fat-soluble vitamins. Even the near-vegetarian groups ate insects or small animals that were rich in pre-formed Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and what we now know is Vitamin K2. And here’s the kicker for my fertility clients: many of the foods high in these nutrients were fed preferentially to pregnant or reproductive-age women in the groups he studied.
- Butter from grass-fed cows
- Organ meats
- Fish eggs
- Cheese from grass-fed cows
- Natto (a fermented soybean popular in Japan)
Now, think about the French Diet and the above list of foods. Health experts have been talking about the “French Paradox” for years – the confusion over France’s rich, fatty diet and their low heart disease rates. What if the French Paradox isn’t such a paradox after all? What if it’s not the red wine that’s protecting them, but all the foie gras, quality cheese, and butter?
Now think about the Japanese diet. What if it’s not the green tea that’s protecting them from cancer and heart disease, but all the fish eggs and natto?
Previous thinking on Vitamin K2 was that our gut bacteria can make what we need from Vitamin K1. Does the typical American’s damaged gut do this? Who knows. I’ve seen evidence for and against the claim that we get enough from eating dark leafy greens.
But logically, when I think about the modern American diet, our current rate of disease, and compare it to someplace like France that has loads of K2 in their diet, it makes sense to me to eat more foods with K2.
As a side note, my latest obsession in my nutrition practice is hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA-read more here). I find it most useful for determining tissue calcification. I would say that about 80 percent of my clients have high calcium levels in their tissues and would benefit from more K2 in their diet, either from foods or supplements, to help “sweep” it out of tissues. For those few who actually do need more calcium, K2 would also be beneficial in guiding that extra calcium into bones and teeth.
I see lots of potential in Vitamin K2 and I think you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it in the future. Vitamin K2 has potential benefits for nearly every major health concern of our time. K2 might be the ‘missing link’ that explains many of our modern health woes.
So eat your pastured dairy, organs, fish eggs, and shellfish! And if you have arterial calcification, as determined by a heart scan, or tissue calcification as determined by HTMA, you may want to consider supplementing with additional K2 (also called menaquinone-4 and menatetrenone).
For more information on Vitamin K2, “Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox,” by Kate, Rheaume-Bleue, is a great place to start.
3. Trolls: I am not a lacky for the Weston A. Price Foundation. Stop trying to label me. I’m anti-dogma and support many different types of diets.