New research from Tufts and Cornell has found that Vitamin K produced by gut bacteria could help bone strength.

Kyla Shea of the Vitamin K Laboratory at the USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University and Chris Hernandez of Cornell University’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering found that Vitamin K was associated with bone fracture risk but not density. Research in mice found that when the animals’ gut microbiomes were modified, their bone strength but not bone density was reduced.

Vitamin K in our diets comes from green vegetables. Gut bacteria synthesize a different form of Vitamin K, which affects bone strength. “Vitamin K is an enzymatic cofactor that’s required for certain proteins to function,” Shea said. “One of these, osteocalcin, is the predominant non-collagenous protein in bone.”

Osteocalcin creates a string-like material inside the bone and helps make the bone less brittle. “Right now, a lot of treatments for osteoporosis focus on improving bone mineral density, but there are not a lot of ways to improve bone matrix quality,” Hernandez said. “What if we could change the gut microbiome so it makes more vitamin K, which could give people those benefits without having to eat more kale or take a regular vitamin supplement?”

According to Hernandez, “The microbiome is an exciting new arena with a lot of potential for new treatments, and a lot of that is the interaction with nutritional components.”

Read more about Vitamin K and gut bacteria in One Green Planet, including Vitamin K and cognitive decline. Check out these recipes and articles:

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