For the past decade, we have been hearing so much about how vitamin D can promote good health in almost every respect. But now, based on the remarkable knowledge scientists have gained regarding vitamin K, we have a new kid on the block that may end up being the next vitamin D.
Top researchers in the field of nutrition science have discovered that vitamin K, just like vitamin D, is crucial for preventing cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, and diabetes. And same with vitamin D, nearly everyone is deficient. Find out how vitamin K works to offer protection against these diseases and ways to get adequate vitamin K into your body.
What is Vitamin K?
Vitamin K is best known for its role in helping blood clot properly, but there is more to it than just that. Vitamin K is a group of structurally similar, fat-soluble vitamins. The two main types of vitamin K are K1 and K2. Vitamins K3, K4, and K5 also exist but they are synthetic forms used to inhibit fungal growth as well as by the pet food industry.
Vitamin K1 (phytonadione)
- Found in green vegetables, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard.
- K1 goes directly to the liver and helps maintain a healthy blood clotting system. It helps make 4 of the 13 proteins required for blood clotting.
- No known toxicity.
Vitamin K2 (menoquinone)
- Produced by the healthy bacteria in the large intestine.
- Also present in fermented foods, particularly cheese and cheese curd and the Japanese fermented soybeans called natto which is, by far, the richest source of K2.
- K2 goes straight to vessel walls, bones, and tissues, not the liver.
- Colon bacteria can convert K1 to K2.
- No known toxicity.
Additionally, there are different forms of vitamin K2, of which MK4 and MK7 are the most significant.
- Produced by the body via the conversion of K1.
- Helps maintain healthy blood clotting.
- Shown to reduce risk of bone fractures and cancer.
- Not produced by the human body.
- Abundantly found in fermented soybeans (natto).
- Proven to reduce the risk of bone fractures and cardiovascular disorders.
Amazing Benefits Of Vitamin K
Apart from the ability to control blood clotting, researchers have discovered many additional advantages of Vitamin K, among which include the prevention of osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
1. The Missing Link In Osteoporosis
We have always been told that a higher calcium intake prevents osteoporosis. Then how come countries like the U.S., Canada, and the Scandinavian countries, which have the highest calcium consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis? The reason is that these countries have adopted nutritional guidelines that are based on an incorrect theory of bone mineralization.
- First of all, bones are not just made of calcium but at least a dozen other minerals including potassium, magnesium, manganese, silica, iron, zinc, selenium, boron, phosphorus, sulfur, chromium, and traces of many other minerals. Consuming mega doses of calcium (usually through supplements) only leads to other mineral imbalances and deficiencies, resulting in weaker bones and a higher risk of osteoporosis.
- Many calcium supplements (such as coral calcium, oyster shell calcium, calcium citrate, and calcium carbonate) are not well handled by the body. These forms of calcium can’t be broken down and they form miniature rocks that get deposited in your soft tissues, a process called calcification that is kind of like hard water calcium deposits in your shower head that eventually impede the flow.
- However, studies show that you can prevent such calcification by ensuring adequate amounts of vitamins D and K2. Vitamin D helps you properly absorb the calcium while vitamin K2 activates a protein hormone called osteocalcin, which is needed to bind calcium into the matrix of your bone. In other words, vitamin K2 can direct the calcium to your skeleton, hence, preventing it from being deposited where you don’t want it to, such as your arteries, organs, or joint spaces.
- Therefore, the best way to achieve healthy bones is not to take mega doses of calcium supplements but to eat a diet rich in food-derived calcium (leafy green vegetables and raw milk from grass-fed cows), magnesium (raw organic cacao and chocolate), silica (cucumbers, bell peppers, and tomatoes), and omega-3 fatty acids. Use natural sea salt (instead of commercial salts which are void of nutrients) to get a variety of trace minerals, make sure you have adequate vitamins D and K2, and do weight-bearing exercises on a regular basis.
2. Reduces Cardiovascular Risk
When your body’s soft tissues are damaged, they respond with an inflammatory process that can result in the deposition of calcium into the damaged tissue. When this occurs in your blood vessels, you have the underlying mechanism of coronary artery disease – the buildup of plaque that can lead you down the path of a heart attack.
Thankfully, if your body has adequate Vitamin K2, it will work together with vitamin D to increase a protein called Matrix GLA Protein (MGP). This protein is responsible for preventing calcium from entering your blood vessels. Studies show that higher ingestion of vitamin K2 substantially reduces aortic calcification and coronary artery disease.
3. Remarkable Anti-Cancer Properties
Increasingly new findings have demonstrated vitamin K2’s promising role in combating a variety of common and dangerous cancers (including colon, leukemia, liver, lung, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, oral, prostate, and stomach) at multiple stages. Recent discoveries have identified many anti-cancer mechanisms by which vitamin K2 exerts its potent effects. It:
- Triggers programmed cell death by “apoptosis” through activation of a suicide protein.
- Targets tumor cells for destruction through “oncosis” by stimulating oxidative stress without toxicity to surrounding healthy tissues.
- Sets off “autophagy” by which cancer cells essentially eat themselves by releasing their own digestive enzymes internally.
- This leads to cancer cell death by “autoschizis” whereby cells simply split open, spilling their contents.
- Blocks new blood vessel formation essential to support the rapid growth of tumor tissue.
Unfortunately, despite all these exciting findings of vitamin K2, don’t expect to hear much from your physician. Research is still in its infancy stage and it will take many years before it is applied to mainstream cancer treatments. However, vitamin K2 is relatively safe to be used as an additional cancer-preventive nutrient.
4. Enhances Insulin Sensitivity
Recent research shows that vitamin K2 supplementation can help regulate glucose metabolism by activating the protein hormone, osteocalcin in your body. “Active” osteocalcin has been shown in studies to improve insulin sensitivity. This is an incredibly important benefit as enhanced insulin sensitivity means that your body is more efficient in directing sugar from your bloodstream to your muscles and liver.
Lab Testing For Vitamin K
At present, there are no meaningful lab assessments of vitamin K status. Vitamin K measurements in the blood plasma only reflect what was in your diet the day before.
Scientists are currently working on assessing vitamin K indirectly by measuring circulating MGP, the protein that is activated by vitamin K2. Based on this information, you can evaluate your risk for arterial calcification, hence, cardiac risk.
Optimizing Your Vitamin K Intake
- Eat a combination of leafy green vegetables and fermented foods like natto and cheese.
- Since most people do not get sufficient amounts of vitamin K2 from their diet to reap its health benefits, consider taking a daily vitamin K2 supplement. Remember to always take it with fat since it is fat-soluble only. The recommended dosage for adults ranges from 45-300 mcg. Studies show that vitamin K is non-toxic even at very high levels.
- For your reference, half an ounce of natto contains about 200 mcg of vitamin K2, whereas you have to eat almost 5 ounces of hard cheese to attain the same amount. However, most Americans may not appreciate the natto’s smell and slimy texture.
- If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have kidney disease, taking anti-coagulant or anti-platelet medications, or have a bleeding disorder, consult with your healthcare provider before taking this vitamin.
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Carol Chuang is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and a Metabolic Typing Advisor. She has a Masters degree in Nutrition and is the founder of CC Health Counseling, LLC.
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