Most of us are aware of the powerful combination of calcium and Vitamin D when it comes to maintaining strong, healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis. However, there are other nutrients that take equally active and critical roles in bone health.
When we focus on the benefits offered by a specific nutrient or a micronutrient, we often discount the fact that nutrients – well, most of them - simply don’t work alone. They work hand in hand influencing and co-operating with each other in a complex yet most amazing, harmonious fashion. This synergistic partnership between the nutrients helps unlock their individual potential to achieve a desired health goal. A classic example of this synergy is how other vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium and Vitamin K2, stand shoulder to shoulder with the calcium and Vitamin D duo to give us a healthy, well-performing skeletal system.
Without a doubt, calcium is an extremely important mineral needed to build strong bones and slow the rate at which bone loss takes place in our body. But calcium can’t singlehandedly take all the credit in supporting bone health. In fact, only relying on calcium supplements may actually do more harm than good in the long run.
Calcium can only reach its full bone building capacity if your body has enough Vitamin D, which in turn requires magnesium for its efficient metabolism. In addition, lots of controversy surrounds calcium supplementation. Excessive build-up of calcium, or calcification, in the blood and soft tissues such as ligaments, muscles, nerves, joint spaces and blood vessels (arteries) is bad news. It can result in painful muscle cramps, chronic constipation, kidney stones, cardiac rhythm problems, osteoporosis, arthritis and hardening of arteries or atherosclerosis, one of the most serious risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
This leads us to add Vitamin K2 in the mix as it helps in calcium distribution by mobilizing it to areas where it is needed, such as bones, while moving it away from the ‘no parking zones’ such as soft tissues.
Intrigued? That’s exactly the kind of partnership we are taking about when it comes to nutrients, which brings us to our next star, Vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps our body to absorb calcium as well as phosphorus, thus helping to build as well as maintain strong bones. Without sufficient Vitamin D, we will have lower bone density and we become more susceptible to fractures as we age. In fact, emerging research points out that Vitamin D is not only important for healthy bones and osteoporosis prevention but also supports heart, brain and immune system health.
While there is a growing awareness about the role of Vitamin D in keeping bones as well as muscles healthy, it is lesser known that you will not be able to utilize Vitamin D if you are low on magnesium, the miracle mineral.
The twosome of calcium and Vitamin D is inarguably important for healthy bones, but as it turns out both these nutrients are not efficiently utilized without enough magnesium in the body. Firstly, magnesium acts a gatekeeper and makes sure that calcium is steered out of the cells into the extracellular matrix once it has performed its required functions. Secondly, magnesium also works collaboratively with thyroid and parathyroid glands to regulate calcium
With a rise in blood plasma calcium levels, magnesium stimulates the thyroid gland to release calcitonin, a bone preserving hormone. The noted expert on magnesium, Dr. Carolyn Dean explains the role of magnesium in bone health: "It is vitally important that studies on the efficacy of vitamin D and calcium in relation to bone health are not done in isolation in the absence of magnesium. The fact that magnesium works synergistically with vitamin D and calcium by stimulating the specific hormone calcitonin—which helps to preserve bone structure and draws calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones, preventing osteoporosis, some forms of arthritis and kidney stones— cannot be overlooked."
Magnesium also regulates the secretion of parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH is released by parathyroid glands when there is a state of low plasma calcium and this has a strong influence on bone cells. It causes them to release calcium into the blood, making it available to the rest of the body. While the process is highly organized and self-regulating, too much of PTH will continue prompting bones to continue releasing calcium into the blood. This results in bones with less calcium content, high porosity and less bone mass. This condition, called osteoporosis, is responsible for bones that are brittle and more likely to fracture.
The connection between magnesium deficiency and osteoporosis is summarized in a 2013 study published in Nutrients , “Magnesium deficiency contributes to osteoporosis directly by acting on crystal formation and on bone cells and indirectly by impacting on the secretion and the activity of parathyroid hormone and by promoting low grade inflammation…. Overall, controlling and maintaining magnesium homeostasis represents a helpful intervention to maintain bone integrity.”
Another example of how nutrients work in synergy with other nutrients and co-factors is the interaction of magnesium and Vitamin D. Magnesium helps the body to convert Vitamin D into calcitriol, its bioactive form. It also acts as an important, indispensable co-factor that supports the functions of enzymes involved in Vitamin D metabolism.
- Vitamin K2
Vitamin K is an extremely integral nutrient required for blood clotting. But emerging research also highlights that this fat soluble vitamin plays a crucial role in bone metabolism by regulating calcium in the body  . It helps to maintain the health of bones and arteries by keeping calcium in the bones and away from arteries.
Vitamin K2 activates osteocalcin and Matrix gla protein (MGP) – proteins secreted by osteoblasts, cells involved in the synthesis and mineralization of bones. MGP has a strong affinity for calcium ions and is a strong inhibitor of vascular calcification . On the other hand, osteocalcin grabs calcium and directs it to the bones, where osteoblasts integrate it into the bone matrix – an action that results in increased mineral content in the bone, thus making the skeleton tougher and less prone to fracture.
Osteoclasts, the other type of bone cells, are responsible to break down the bone tissue and release calcium, along with phosphates, into the bloodstream to be utilized by the body as and when required. With long term deficiency in Vitamin K2, osteoclasts will break down more bone tissue than osteoblasts are able to synthesise – resulting in gradual loss of bone tissue, weaker bones and also excessive calcium deposition in soft tissues and arteries. Simply put, Vitamin K2 activated proteins helps to distribute calcium where it is needed while drawing it away from where it is not required, such as blood vessels.
In a nutshell, if you are looking to extract the best from your calcium supplements and achieve optimum bone health, it’s imperative that you maintain a proper balance between calcium, Vitamin D, magnesium and Vitamin K2. Maintaining this balance will also help to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke induced by excessive calcium deposition in the arteries. Moreover, taking supplements or healthy diet alone is not sufficient for keeping healthy bone status. Being physically active and engaging in weight-bearing exercise, such as walking and running is another critical strategy in this direction.
- Castiglioni et al. Magnesium and Osteoporosis: Current State of Knowledge and Future Research Directions. Nutrients. 2013
- Vitamin K2 & Healthy Bones. Vitamin K2.org
- Knapen MH, Drummen NE, Smit E, Vermeer C, Theuwissen E. Three-year low-dose menaquinone-7 supplementation helps decrease bone loss in healthy postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int. 2013
- Schurgers LJ, Uitto J, Reutelingsperger CP. Vitamin K-dependent carboxylation of matrix Gla-protein: a crucial switch to control ectopic mineralization. Trends in Molecular Medicine. 2013