The adult human heart beats an average of 60 to 80 times a minute to pump blood, nutrients and oxygen through our body. That equates to approximately 100 800 beats per day to move an average of 5.7 litres of blood.¹ A healthy heart is vital to a healthy body, and a healthy life.
Healthy bones are essential to good health as well. All 206 bones in our body help to provide structural support, help us to move around and provide sites for our muscles to attach to.² But this is not all we need our bones for. Our bones also have a protective role towards our organs, they help to maintain healthy mineral and acid-base balance, provide storage for growth factors and the bone marrow is involved in blood cell production. ² Looking after them and maintaining good bone health is not just important to prevent injury, it is also imperative to maintaining balance within our bodies.
So what vitamins and minerals help to keep our heart and our bones healthy and are there nutrients which do both? Let find out!
This fat-soluble vitamin is a powerhouse nutrient which performs various important functions in the body. Firstly, it helps to maintain bone density by stimulating osteoblasts and thus supporting bone calcification. ³ Further, vitamin K helps keep the blood vessel walls flexible, supports the health of blood vessels and contributes to cardiovascular health. ⁴ Vitamin K2 also plays an important role in normal healthy blood coagulation (our blood clotting ability).⁵
Vitamin K2 is present in butter, egg yolk, animal based foods, fermented foods and some cheeses. ⁵
Various factors can affect vitamin K absorption, one being a low fat diet, but having said that, vitamin K deficiency is relatively rare, with our daily requirement being around 60 micrograms a day. ⁶
Magnesium is a very important nutrient for healthy muscle function, and this includes the heart muscle. We also need magnesium to maintain the tone of our blood vessel walls and for healthy conduction of nerves. ⁷
Not only this, but magnesium also plays an important role in the maintenance of bone density. Approximately 60% of the magnesium in our body is stored in our bones and low levels of magnesium can change the structure of bone crystals. ⁸ Further, magnesium deficiency is associated with inflammation, which may affect the remodelling of bone, and it can affect vitamin D levels by reducing Parathyroid Hormone (which is responsible for calcium and vitamin D metabolism).⁸
The recommended daily intake for men is about 420 mg/day and for women it is 310-320 mg/day. A variety of foods provide a good source of magnesium, including green leafy vegetables, legumes and nuts and seeds. ⁹ Half a cup of cooked spinach, for instance, provides 83mg of magnesium, while a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds provides a generous 317mg of magnesium.¹⁰ Wholegrains and cereals also contain decent amounts of this nutrient, but only if they are unrefined.⁹ The refining process strips them of the magnesium (along with other nutrients). So next time you’re not sure what to snack on, why not consider a trail mix with some nuts and seeds (unroasted) as a tasty magnesium, as well as energy, boost.
It is important to note, though, that as with all supplements more is not always better. Magnesium levels that are too high can interfere with calcium absorption and negatively affect bone mineral formation.⁸ Therefore it is best to stay within the recommended daily and therapeutic dose.
Vitamin C is a nutrient which, when it comes to bone health, is often overlooked, but it’s actually quite important. Why? Because it is a vital component of connective tissue and collagen formation. This includes the formation of bone matrix. ⁷ In addition to this, it supports vascular health by maintaining the integrity of blood vessel walls. ¹¹ Our recommended daily intake is 75mg/day for women and 90mg/day for men.¹¹ This vitamin is water soluble, and the body gets rid of what it doesn’t need through our urine. Very little is stored. Also, our bodies can’t make vitamin C, so daily intake is essential.¹² Fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C. Half a cup of red capsicum, for instance, contains between 101-144mg of this vitamin, while half a cup of cooked broccoli provides around 54mg. We often think of oranges when we think of vitamin C - One medium orange will provide you with between 59-83mg, but if you really need a vitamin boost, why not try a guava. One of these fruits contains a generous 206 mg of vitamin C. ¹²
Calcium is quite well known for its role in bone formation and bone density. We also need it for proper muscle contraction and to keep our heart beating normally.⁷ When we are calcium deficient, our body pulls calcium back out of the bones to replace calcium in our blood to keep our levels stable.¹³ Hence calcium deficiency can lead to brittle bones. While dairy foods tend to contain the highest concentrations of calcium, they are far from the only source of calcium and it is possible for vegetarians/vegans and those who are intolerant to dairy to get adequate amounts of calcium in the diet. ¹⁴ For men and women under 50 this amount is around 1000mg daily, which increases to around 1300mg daily for women over the age of 50. ¹⁴ So if not from milk, where can we get our calcium? For those who like it, Tofu provides a generous 832mg per cup. But if Tofu isn’t your cup of tea, one tin of sardines in water contains 279mg, while one grilled snapper fillet provides you with 163mg of calcium. Six dried figs provide 160mg of calcium, and other sources include soy milk, leafy greens, nuts, muscles, tinned salmon (bones in) and legumes. ¹⁵
Calcium is not the only nutrient we need for strong, healthy bones. We also require vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium metabolism and homeostasis. It is also involved in cellular differentiation, including osteoclast (bone cell) formation, thereby facilitating bone formation. ⁷ Vitamin D is produced by the body, in the skin to be exact, but we require sun exposure to activate it so that it can perform its functions. ⁷ It’s lack of sun exposure which can lead to deficiencies of vitamin D. Having said that, there are some dietary sources of this nutrient, including fatty fish, beef, butter and eggs, though the content can vary depending on the animal’s vitamin D status. ⁷ In spite of seeing the sun year round, an average of one in four Australians are lacking vitamin D.¹⁶ That’s not to say that we should forget about sun safety, but a few minutes of direct sunlight every day can be helpful in maintaining our vitamin D levels.
As always, please stick to recommended dosages of nutrients since those are usually the researched quantities. More is often not going to offer any additional benefit and may actually start having a negative effect on our body’s balance. Before starting on any new supplements, please consult with your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional first to ensure they are right for you.
1. Lewis, T. 2016, “Human Heart: Anatomy, Function & Facts”, Live Science, cited on 22/8/2018, https://www.livescience.com/34655-human-heart.html
2. Standring, S Elsevier 2004 & Taichman RS 2005, cited in Clarke, B. 2008, “Normal Bone Anatomy and Physiology”, Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Vol. 3 (3), pp. S131-S139.
3. Yamaguchi, M. in Schwalfenberg, GK, 2017, “Vitamins K1 and K2: The Emerging Group of Vitamins Required for Human Health”, Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, Vol, 2017, pp. 1-6
4. Geleijnse, JM et al. in Schwalfenberg, GK, 2017, “Vitamins K1 and K2: The Emerging Group of Vitamins Required for Human Health”, Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, Vol, 2017, pp. 1-6
5. Schwalfenberg, GK, 2017, “Vitamins K1 and K2: The Emerging Group of Vitamins Required for Human Health”, Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, Vol, 2017, pp. 1-6
6. Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, 2014, “Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand – Vitamin K”, cited on 23/8/2018, https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-k
7. Braun, L. & Cohen, M. 2015, “Herbs and Natural Supplements – 4th Edition”, Churchill Livingstone, Chatswood NSW, Australia.
8. Castiglioni, S., Cazzaniga, A., Albisetti, W. & Maier, JA. 2013, “Magnesium and Osteoporosis: Current State of Knowledge and Future Research Directions”, Nutrients, Vol. 5(8), pp. 3022-3033.
9. Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, 2014, “Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand – Magnesium”, cited on 23/08/2018, https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/magnesium
10. Dietitians of Canada, 2015, “Food Sources of Magnesium”, cited 23/08/2018, https://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Factsheets/Food-Sources-of-Magnesium.aspx
11. Aghajanian, P.; Hall, S.; Wongworawat, MD. & Mohan, S. 2015, “The Roles and Mechanisms of Actions of Vitamin C in Bone: New Developments”, J Bone Miner Res, Vol. 30(11), pp. 1945-1955.
12. Dietitians of Canada, 2015, “Food Sources of Vitamin C”, cited 24/08/2018, https://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Factsheets/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-C.aspx
13. Sanders, KM; Nowson, CA; Kotowicz, MA; Briffa, K; Devine, A. & Reid, IR, 2009, “Calcium and bone health: position statement for the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia and the Endocrine Society of Australia”, The Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 190(6), pp. 316-320.
14. Australian Government – National Health and Medical Research Centre, 2014, “Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand – Calcium”, cited on 24/08/2018, https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium
15. Osteoporosis.org 2010, “The Calcium content of selected foods”, cited on 24/08/2018, https://www.osteoporosis.org.au/sites/default/files/files/calcium-food-table-web.pdf
16. Curtin University News and Events, 2017, “Australians deficient in sunshine vitamin”, cited on 24/08/2018, http://news.curtin.edu.au/stories/australians-deficient-sunshine-vitamin/