Originally published December 17 2012
Vitamin K may be the key to osteoporosis prevention
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Vitamin K - a nutrient associated with green, leafy vegetables - may play a critical role in bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis, according to a study conducted by researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, Yale University, Villanova University, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers discovered that a poorly understood protein called osteocalcin appears to be essential to protecting bones from fractures, but that it can only be absorbed by bones through the action of vitamin K.
"This study is important because it implicates, for the first time, the role of osteocalcin in giving bone the ability to resist fracture," lead researcher Deepak Vashishth said. "Since osteocalcin is always the point of fracture, we believe that strengthening it could lead to a strengthening of the overall bone."
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the first to show that bones can fracture on the nanostructural scale. The researchers found that when a person trips, falls or otherwise causes a blow to a bone, a pair of jointed proteins (osteopontin and osteocalcin) are deformed, causing the formation of a hole only 500 atoms across. These holes, known as dilational bands, appear to be a way to absorb the force of the impact without causing a larger break. Only when the impact is too large for the dilational bands to absorb; do noticeable fractures occur.
Focus on calcium is misleadingScientists have known of osteocalcin's existence for a long time, but they still know very little about its function. Only recently have studies suggested, for instance, that abnormal osteocalcin production is associated with reproductive problems and a greater risk of Type II diabetes. The new study is the first to link osteocalcin to bone fractures.
The researchers hope that this knowledge could lead to new therapies and prevention strategies for fractures and osteoporosis. For example, if researchers could find ways to strengthen the osteocalcin-osteopontin bonds, such as by increasing the body's supply of the proteins, that might make bones more resilient.
Notably, osteocalcin must undergo a process called carboxylation before it can be absorbed into bones. This process is performed by vitamin K.
Our bodies synthesize vitamin K2 from a precursor (vitamin K1) found in green, leafy vegetables. Prior studies have linked higher vitamin K levels to improved bone health. The Rotterdam Study, a long-term study of risk factors for chronic disease in old age, found that over a 10-year period, people who consumed the most vitamin K2 had 50 percent less arterial calcification and cardiovascular death than average. This effect may be explained by the vitamin's role in moving vitamin K from the blood - where it can eventually accumulate in arteries, leading to calcification - and into the bones.
"Currently, all of the advice for treating osteoporosis is related to calcium," Vashishth said. "We believe there's more to the story than just calcium, and the results of this new study raise an important question about vitamin K."
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