Vitamin K2 MK-7 is often marketed as a late-life bone health product, though in fact K2 is essential throughout life. The first K2 products targeted bone health for seniors. This focus later expanded to include K2’s significant cardiovascular benefits. Seniors in the 60+ age group defined the early K2 market and they remain an important consumer category.
Vitamin K2 activates osteocalcin proteins which integrate calcium into bone, and matrix Gla proteins (MGP) which bind excess calcium to prevent deposit in the arteries and circulatory system. A strong body of research describes K2’s effect on bone weakening diseases like osteoporosis and osteopenia. K2 reduces the risk of bone fracture, while reducing cardiovascular risk—important for longevity and quality of life for 60+ consumers.
Bone health: prevention of bone disease
Osteoporosis weakens bones, leaving them susceptible to fracture. Fall-related fractures to the hip, wrist or spine are most common, but osteoporosis can leave bones so fragile that even coughing can cause fractures. Bones begin to weaken when the rate of new bone formation slows, and old bone is removed faster than it is replaced. This adjustment is natural, occurs for all people, and results in a lower bone mineral density (BMD) over time. A critical imbalance, however, leads to the onset of bone disease. Bone weakening begins decades before the risk of clinical osteoporosis becomes apparent, and the pace accelerates markedly for women over the age of 45.
Osteoporosis affects three times as many women as men, and within this group women have a higher fracture rate (40 percent for women vs. 30 percent for men). Decreases in oestrogen levels at menopause—plus other genetic and environmental factors—put women at a higher risk. Women are more likely to cross the line where normal age-related bone weakening becomes a disease condition. Osteoporosis accounts for about 8.9 million fractures worldwide each year, and incidents and related costs are rising. European healthcare costs for osteoporosis are estimated to reach €47 billion per year by 2025. Greying populations will increasingly be affected worldwide.
Japan, by exception, has lower rates of bone disease compared to western countries. This has been attributed to higher K2 MK-7 content in diets. Japanese foods rich in MK-7 have been correlated with a reduced risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women  and improved BMD in elderly men. Another Japanese study showed that MK-7 reduced fracture risk for both men and women.
These Japanese studies on fracture risk are not the only evidence for MK-7’s bone health benefits. A European study among women with osteopenia demonstrated that MK-7 preserved bone microarchitecture. Another study showed that daily supplementation of MK-7 over three years (180μg) reduced declines in BMD and bone strength among post-menopausal women. Although K2 is needed throughout life, much of the early research focused on at-risk populations. Now, over 2 decades of studies demonstrate the preventative benefits of vitamin MK-7 in the fight against osteoporosis.
Heart health: the link between osteoporosis and CVD
Vitamin K2 regulates calcium in the body, directing it to where it is helpful and away from where it can be harmful. Over time, K2 deficiency can manifest in the accumulation of excess calcium in arteries and blood vessels in the form of calcium plaques. The circulatory system becomes less flexible, causing the heart to work harder to pump blood to where it is needed. Two of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease are directly related to calcium build-up. Calcium, therefore, is a common factor for both bone and heart health. It’s little surprise that studies demonstrate associations between osteoporosis and CVD, and that the risk of one may signify the risk of the other.
Osteoporosis, for example, is correlated with the presence of calcium deposits in blood vessels. Low BMD in postmenopausal women is also linked to increased cardiovascular incident mortality. Vitamin K2’s duel influence on calcium likely explains these associations. Calcium that is not properly integrated into bones (via K2 osteocalcin activation) is free for deposit in soft tissues and arteries. Supplementation with K2 solves this problem two ways: K2 helps integrate calcium into bones, and activates MGP to bind excess calcium to prevent deposit.
Studies have shown that high levels of non-activated MGP are correlated with lower CVD survival rates, and that K2 supplementation increases activated MGP levels. An important population-based study also demonstrated a 50 percent reduction in arterial calcification and cardiovascular death, and a 25 percent reduction in all-cause mortality associated with K2 intake. Another study found a 9 percent reduced risk for CVD for every 10µg K2 increase. A 2015 study demonstrates that MK-7 can even reverse existing calcification, restoring arteries and vessels to a previous stage of health.
Though the visible signs of osteoporosis and calcium-related CVD may only manifest in later years, they develop over decades and there is a relationship between the two. Supplementation of Vitamin K2 helps preserve BMD, prevents calcium build up in arteries, and reverses existing calcification— ensuring health and longevity in the senior years.
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