Has your mind jumped to leafy greens and their role in blood clotting? Good thing I caught you. You are thinking of Vitamin K1. This article is devoted to Vitamin K2, it’s fat-soluble cousin. K1 and K2 were thought to be different forms of the same vitamin until the late 1990s. Now we know that K2 is very different from K1: it is found mostly in animal-derived food sources as well as some fermented foods. The list of its health promoting effects is long and impressive. Of note, it plays a crucial role in moving calcium around in the body, which has a profound effect on cardiovascular health as well as bone health. Finally, Vitamin K2 is beginning to get the recognition that it deserves.
What it does
As mentioned above, Vitamin K2 is a fat-soluble vitamin that is an essential nutrient. This means we need to get it from our food. [Small amounts are made by our intestinal microbiota, but it is not enough to cover our needs.] While Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, it does not tell the body where to deposit it. In comes Vitamin K2, which tells the body exactly where to put it. K2 does this by activating osteocalcin, a protein found in bones and teeth. Activated osteocalcin binds calcium and draws it into bones and teeth where it belongs. This promotes bone health and decreases the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
K2 also activates MGP [matrix gla protein], osteocalcin’s counterpart. MGP escorts calcium out of soft tissues where it does not belong, such as arteries, veins, and even the heart, kidneys, and lungs. This is why a deficiency in Vitamin K2 can lead to slow, but harmful calcification in these tissues. Calcification of the arteries is a major contributor to heart disease. According to Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, “Vitamin K2-activated MGP is the strongest inhibitor of tissue calcification presently known. Its pivotal importance for cardiovascular health is demonstrated by the fact that there seems to be no effective alternative mechanism for preventing calcification in blood vessels.” Amazingly enough, studies have shown that K2 actually can partially reverse arterial calcification by up to 37 percent in as little as six weeks. “Hardening of the arteries” is considered by many to be irreversible, so these new studies are encouraging. Look for more studies in the coming years. Hopefully, evidence will continue to grow.
If the benefits of K2 on bone health and heart health were not enough, there is more. Vitamin K2 helps with the following conditions: dental health [especially the formation of wide, healthy arches and cavity prevention], cancer prevention, varicose veins, wrinkles, diabetes and insulin sensitivity. While everyone needs K2, those who need to pay particular attention to their intake include pregnant women, children and adolescents, and menopausal/post menopausal women.
K2 is found in several different foods. Natto, a fermented soybean product commonly consumed in some areas of Japan, has the highest concentration. Interestingly, the regions of Japan where it is commonly consumed have the lowest rates of hip fracture and heart disease. Natto is sticky, slimy and can smell; it can be an acquired taste for some. Sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables contain small amounts of K2. Other sources include goose liver, Gouda-style cheeses, Brie-style cheeses, and some cheddar cheeses, but to a lesser degree. The fat in meat and dairy derived from grass-fed animals is another source. This includes butter, cream, cheese, the fats in grass-fed meats, as well as egg yolks from pastured poultry. To compare with conventional foods, a pastured egg yolk contains roughly double the K2 in a conventional egg. K2 is also found in supplemental form for those who choose not to eat the above-mentioned foods.
Chances are, if you are eating a Modern American Diet low in naturally occurring K2, you probably are deficient. One study from 2007 revealed that most apparently healthy people are. Unlike Vitamin K1, K2 is not recycled in the body. It is possible to develop a deficiency in as little as seven days on a K2-deficient diet. Other signs you are probably deficient include having the following: osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, varicose veins, dental cavities or a narrow and crowded dental arch, kidney disease, and Chron’s disease.
Vitamin K2 is an important piece to the puzzle of modern day health concerns and diseases. However, it should be considered just that – a piece – and not the whole story; it can be detrimental to view nutrients in isolation. Nevertheless, K2 is an exciting vitamin to learn about, especially when it comes to diseases so many are struggling with. Grass-fed foods and those prepared by traditional fermentation are key sources. Luckily, we can all take advantage of the growing local, sustainable food movement here in Maine that promotes these very foods.
The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.