An expert discusses calcium, vitamins D and K, and better bone health

Calcium supplementation remains the best way to get the calcium you’re not getting in your diet. But what most people don’t know is that the vitamins D and K are necessary for your body to absorb calcium and enable it to keep your bones healthy.

Vitamin D3

Direct exposure of skin to sunlight is still the best source of vitamin D3. But for people living in northern latitudes, sun exposure is limited. Additionally, dark skin is poor at converting sunshine to vitamin D3, leaving dark-skinned people at greater risk of bone problems and other concerns associated with low levels of D3 and calcium.

Certain dairy foods contain some vitamin D, but for susceptible groups, as well as the elderly, children and the obese, vitamin D3 supplements can elevate vitamin D to the levels needed to allow calcium to work more effectively.

The Institute of Medicine, which has over 1,700 members and is part of the National Academy of Sciences, recently updated its recommendations to include higher amounts of calcium and vitamin D3 based on the latest scientific research. A simple blood test is the best way to determine if you are deficient in calcium and vitamin D, like many Americans.

Vitamin K

Consider taking vitamin K with your calcium supplements. Vitamin K helps to control calcium regulation, but has been ignored as critical to bone and blood vessel health. In people who are deficient in K, calcium may leach from their bones into their arteries, potentially leading to bone loss.

K is found in meat, poultry and dairy products. Research suggests that it is effective at maintaining normal calcium levels in the body. Supplement with between 40 and 80 micrograms daily, but consult with your pharmacist first. Supplemental vitamin K can interact with other medications and may impact the effectiveness of the blood thinner Coumadin.

Taken properly with calcium, vitamins D3 and K are important components of an overall bone health regimen.

Joseph Maroon, M.D., is a board-certified neurosurgeon and expert in nutrition and sports medicine.