Vitamin K2 benefits your body in ways you may not realize. It’s not one a vitamin doctors talks about often, which is very unfortunate, considering how important it is for bone and cardiovascular disease health. In this post, I review vitamin K2 benefits and how to incorporate it in food and supplement forms.
If you take vitamin D or calcium supplements, especially if you have heart disease or osteoporosis, don’t pop another pill without learning more about vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 and Deficiency
Vitamin K2 is also know as menaquinone (MK). Consider it the new ‘super’ vitamin. It’s estimated that 90% of people in Western populations are deficient in vitamin k2. Food sources of vitamin K2 are natto (fermented soy shown in picture above), meat, liver, brain, organ meats, egg yolk, butter, egg yolk, fermented cheeses, and curd cheese. It’s estimated that 70% of vitamin K2 deficiency is attributed to not eating enough of these foods.
Here’s something interesting that shows how our new food ways can lead to deficiencies without us realizing it. When cow eat green grass, which contains vitamin K1, the bacteria in their rumen convert it to vitamin K2. We then obtain this super vitamin from animal sources, especially aged and fermented product.
But most and conventional cows do not graze on grass anymore. They eat GMO grains that don’t contain any vitamin K.
Vitamin K2 is also produced by bacteria in the human gut. However, gut dysbiosis (unhealthy bacterial balance) is common thanks to medications use, hormones, too much sugar, lack of fiber, and several other reasons. If you don’t have an abundant and varied gut flora, your body will produce less vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 is Different from Vitamin K1
Vitamin K1, also known as phylloquinone, is found in leafy greens, like spinach, collard, broccoli. Its main role is to control clotting. If you get a cut, vitamin K1 helps your blood cells and platelets aggregate near a wound to form a clot so you don’t bleed to death. People on blood thinning medications like Coumadin or warfarin are usually advised to reduce or maintain a stable vitamin K1 intake. Vitamin K2 doesn’t interfere or affect clotting.
When you research food sources of vitamin K, you really have to distinguish whether the food is a good source of vitamin K1 or K2 because they work and benefit your body in different ways.
Health Benefits of Vitamin K2
1. Deposits calcium on bones and prevents calcium loss from bones
Your bones are made of a protein matrix, and your body mineralizes this matrix with calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus to make strong healthy bones that do not break easily. The protein that triggers builds bones and depositing calcium in bones is called Osteocalcin. Osteocalcin is usually present in your body in its inactive form. When vitamin K2 is present, it activates osteocalcin, leading more mineralized bones.
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Vitamin K2 also inhibits the resorption (pulling) of calcium from the bones. This reduces calcium losses from your bones, which helps maintain bone strength. Studies find that high consumption of vitamin K2 is resulted in reduced risk of fracture. In fact, vitamin K intake was more associated with reducing hip fractures the most, while calcium intake had weak or no association at all.
Vitamin K2 is absolutely necessary for your bone health. If your bones are made of calcium, and vitamin D helps you absorb more calcium, what or who tells your body to deposit the calcium on your bones? You guessed it, vitamin K2. When you are taking high doses of vitamin D, you’re even absorbing more calcium. And when you don’t have enough vitamin K2 to direct the calcium, it has to go somewhere else. Sadly, that place is your arteries, leading us to the next role for vitamin K2, which is reducing heart disease risk.
2. Helps prevent artery calcification and reduces the risk of heart disease
Many calcium studies found that high doses lead to artery calcification and increased risk of heart disease. Imagine the calcium that builds up around your bathroom sink now building up on your arteries. Without vitamin K2, your body has NO mechanism to dump calcium in your bones. Instead, it ends up hardening your arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease (1).
High levels of vitamin D in the blood without enough vitamin K2-7 leads to calcification of arteries and heart disease. You must have enough vitamin K2 before (or at least while) you take vitamin D.
Few years ago, vitamin D was (and still is) all the craze. People are all too worried about having low vitamin D level. Sadly, most doctors stop at vitamin D and calcium when it comes to bone health, and very few are talking about vitamin K2. When you take mega doses of vitamin D, you have a lot of activated proteins that tell your body to deposit calcium ‘somewhere.’ Without enough vitamin K2, this ‘somewhere’ does not end up in the bones, but instead in the arteries. The amount of calcium in your arteries is the number 1 risk factor for coronary heart disease, and vitamin K2 (not vitamin K1) intake reduces the risk and prevents coronary heart disease (2).
To put the significance of vitamin K2 for cardiovascular health into perspective, consider that only 50% of people who end up with a heart attack have high cholesterol. Statins, medications that reduce cholesterol and presumably lower heart disease risk and heart attacks, interfere with the recycling of vitamin K2 in the arteries and increase the risk for calcification (3). If you’re on a statin medication, it’s even more important to take a vitamin K2 supplement.
The #1 medication prescribed for heart disease increases the risk for heart disease!
3. Improves cardiac function and output
Cardiac output, or resting heart rate, was improved by 14% when people took 300 mcg vitamin k2 over 6 weeks (4). That means 900 more liters of blood pumped through the body, which means more perfusion, nutrients, oxygen, fluids, and immune cells getting to the cells of your body, all without increasing heart rate. This improvement is equivalent to the benefits of cardio training for 6 months!
4. Reduces the risk of developing diabetes and improves insulin sensitivity
People who eat the most vitamin K2 from food sources are less likely to develop diabetes later in life. This is based on a 10-year study that also found that vitamin K2 was more effective than vitamin K1 (5).
Vitamin K2 supplementation for 4 weeks improved insulin sensitivity (6). If you have diabetes, you want your cells to be sensitive to insulin so that it does its job on pushing glucose inside your cells, instead of staying in the blood.
5. Improves muscle and nerve health
Vitamin K2 given supplements of 100 mcg twice a day reduced peripheral neuropathy (7).Vitamin K2 improves muscle contractions and reduces cramping, and may be of great help for people on medications that cause may cramping like statins and tamoxifen.
6. Improves energy level
Mitochondria is the part of the cell that produces energy. They take up oxygen to release a compound known as ATP, which is the form in which your body stores and transfers energy. Without enough ATP, you will be flat out tired.
Cell studies show that vitamin K2 leads to more ATP production (8), and a human study found that people who took vitamin K2 supplements had improved energy capacity (4).
7. Slows down aging
The daily wear and tear on the mitochondria due to oxygen exposure (simply because you need to breathe every day) causes free radicals to form. Free radical production is a main driving force in the aging process (9). A study found that muscle tissue of a 90-year-old had 95% damaged mitochondria compared to almost no damage in a 5-year-old.
Preserving the health of your mitochondria increases longevity. Vitamin K2, along with the antioxidant, CoQ10, reduce damage to the mitochondria, boost energy and ATP production, and slow down the aging process (8).
Cardiac output is also usually reduced with aging (9). With vitamin K2 improving cardiac output (how much blood flows into your cells), you have more nutrients nourishing your cells and more waste being eliminated.
Can you Get Enough Vitamin K2 from Food?
The best food source of vitamin K2 is natto, which is fermented soy (shown in the image). It’s a common food in Japan but not popular among other cultures or on a typical Western diet. Natto is not typically consumed even by health concious individuals. There are other foods that contain some vitamin K2, such as liver, organ meats, egg yolk, and fermented and aged cheeses, but not in an adequate amount to get the health benefits.
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Some researchers believe that it’s impossible to get enough therapeutic doses through food alone. Several studies found that supplementation of menaquinone leads to significant improvements in bone calcification, prevents calcium build up in arteries, reduces the risk for heart disease, reduces the risk for heart attacks, and reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes. While food sources of vitamin K2 should be incorporated, if you are at risk of vitamin K2 deficiency, it’s worthwhile to try a supplement.
Who Should Take Vitamin K2 Supplements?
You are at risk of vitamin K2 deficiency and may benefit from supplements if you have:
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
- Calcification in your arteries
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Take vitamin D supplements now or have taken them in the past
- Take calcium supplements now or have taken them in the past
- Osteoporosis or osteopenia
- Nerve or muscle pain or neuropathy
- Chronic fatigue
- Feel and look older than your true age
Who Should be Careful with Vitamin K2 Supplements?
If you are on a blood thinner like Coumadin or warfarin, monitor your labs with your doctor. They might want to keep an eye on your INR level to make sure your clotting rate is stable and within normal range. Vitamin K2 as it does NOT interfere with vitamin K1 or clotting, but it’s a chance you don’t want to take without the help of your physician.
How Much Vitamin K2 Should you Take?
You need vitamin K2, scientifically known as menaquinone (MK), in the forms of MK-2 or MK-7. The MK-4 form is synthetic and not recommended. The minimum dose of Mk-2 or MK-7 is 100 mcg and the recommended dose is 300 mcg a day. If your body is running low, a dose of 320-360 mcg reaches the saturation point where you can get the most benefit.
As always, supplements are better used with a health professional who understand their use. If you’re looking for one who can help you with the conditions mentioned in here and you suspect that vitamin K2 deficiency is your problem, consider working with me directly (read more here).
I use 3 Products that Contain Vitamin K2:
The first one is Thorne’s multivitamin and mineral. The daily dose contains 200 mcg MK-2, so this guarantees that my patient’s multi has a good started vitamin K2 does. That’s one of the reasons I discourage OTC generic one-a-day products.
The second product in K Force from Orthomolecular Products which contains 5,000 IU vitamin D with 180 mcg MK-7 with 5,000 IU vitamin D. If you’re going to take vitamin D supplements, you MUST take MK-2 or MK-7.
The third product is Vitamin K2 from Vital Nutrients Products. The dose contains 180 mcg, and I might recommend more than one capsule to get to 300 mcg. It’s also soy-free, which is difficult to find.
If you want to try any of these products, they are available in my supplement store here. For best results, to make sure you’re taking supplements safely without interactions with medications, and to ensure that you’re taking the RIGHT products for the RIGHT symptoms, consider a one-time nutrition consult to help you map out and organize what you take. Contact me here to get more information.