Vitamin K2, what it is and why you need it

vitamin-k2Vitamin K2 is essential for blood coagulation and plays a vital role in other aspects of creating good health.

If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone; vitamin K2 gets little attention in the Western world despite its importance in optimal physical function.

Originally reported by a German scientific publication in 1929 as a key component in the blood clotting process, Koagulationsvitamin came to be known as vitamin K2. (1)

Weston Price, a legendary dentist of the same era who gathered data around the world focused on links between diet and disease, is believed to have discovered vitamin K2 as well. He didn’t know what it was, referring to it as Activator X, and noting in his journals this mystery nutrient appeared to prevent tooth decay and chronic disease in populations who ate non-industrial diets. (2)

Modern science designates the two types of vitamin K as K1 and K2: vitamin K1 is phylloquinone, and is found in leafy green plant foods; vitamin K2 is menaquinone, occurring in fermented foods and animal products. (3)

What Vitamin K Does

Just like all the components of an engine are necessary in order to start the vehicle and drive off, everything in the body is designed to interact and perform various segments of the required processes for running the physical engine.

Vitamin K modifies proteins to facilitate the binding of calcium, an essential mineral for strong bones and good teeth, as well as other bodily functions. (4)

K1 is utilized by the liver in activating the calcium-binding properties of protein that clot blood; K2 activates the proteins in charge of regulating the distribution of calcium throughout the body. (5)

Researchers believe vitamin K2 prevents the build-up of calcium in arteries (6), which is a major risk factor in developing heart disease.

A European study spanning 7 to 10 years found participants who ingested the highest levels of vitamin K2 developed calcification of the arteries at a 52% lower rate than those who got the least, and were 57% less likely to die of heart disease. (7)

When data from a large study of more than 16,000 women was analyzed, the results showed subjects reduced the risk of developing heart disease by 9% for every 10 micrograms of vitamin K2 taken. (8)

In these observational studies, intake of vitamin K1 had no effect on outcomes.

Since cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide today (9), clinical trials to determine the role vitamin K2 can play in prevention are vital.

Other Benefits of Getting Adequate Vitamin K2

When important micronutrients are missing from the diet, any number of bodily processes can go awry. Let’s take a look at three more modern health issues affected by the availability of vitamin K2.

  1. Bone Health and Reducing the Risk of Osteoporosis

Elderly western women are particularly vulnerable to this disease in which bones become more porous and fracture easily.

The building and maintenance of strong bones is dependent on the calcium-binding activity in two particular proteins: matrix gla protein and osteocalcin. (10, 11)

When menopausal women took K2 supplements over a three-year period, they experienced reduced rates of declining bone mineral density in comparison to women who took no supplements. (12)

After conducting 13 separate trials, Japanese medical authorities recommend high doses of vitamin K2 supplements to prevent and treat osteoporosis. (13)

Only one of these lengthy trials failed to show significant improvement in bone density; more than half the studies confirmed that the occurrence of bone fractures in subjects taking K2 decreased by impressive rates: between 60% and 81% for hip, spinal and non-spinal fractures. (14)

However, two other large reviews concluded more evidence is needed before recommendations for supplementing with vitamin K2 to improve bone health can be endorsed. (15, 16)

  1. Improved Dental Health

Dr. Weston Price believed vitamin K2 was vital for preventing cavities and promoting good oral health, but his theory has not been tested on humans.

Animal studies exploring the role of K2 in bone health indicate a potential link between strong bones and good teeth.

Osteocalcin, the protein important for bone metabolism, also regulates proteins vital for dental health. (17) The growth of new dentin underneath tooth enamel appears to be stimulated by osteocalcin. (18)

Researchers believe vitamin K2 may work in concert with vitamins A and D in keeping teeth strong and free of cavities. (19)

  1. Cancer Prevention

While modern science continues to come up with more ways to treat cancer, the incidence of cancer is on the rise. More than 8 million people died of the disease in 2012, and 14 million new cases were diagnosed the same year. (20)

Vitamin K2 has been studied in relation to several types of cancer, including liver cancer. One trial indicated that the recurrence of liver cancer can be reduced by taking vitamin K2 supplements, and another showed lengthier survival periods for patients taking K2. (21, 22)

A large study of 11,000 men concluded a high intake of K2 lowered the risk of advanced prostate cancer by 63%. (23) Vitamin K1 had no effect in the trial.

Sources of Vitamin K2

Vitamin K1 is present in a typical diet at approximately ten times the amount of vitamin K2; since the body can convert K1 to K2, this is helpful. But it’s an inefficient process, and eating foods rich in K2 is a good way to make certain you get enough.

Intestinal bacteria are also capable of producing vitamin K2, but evidence suggests this can be negatively impacted by wide-spectrum antibiotics used to treat common illnesses. (24, 25) If you’ve ever taken antibiotics, your ability to manufacture vitamin K2 internally may be compromised.

Unfortunately, foods rich in vitamin K2 aren’t on the top of everyone’s grocery list. Animal foods are good sources of a vitamin K2 subtype called MK-4, and fermented foods help you get subtypes MK-5 through MK-14. (26)

Include these for the first subtype:

  • Dairy products, high-fat and only from grass-fed cows, including cheese and butter
  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Egg yolks

Fermented foods aren’t eaten as often in modern times, but these are excellent sources of other vitamin K2 subtypes:

  • Miso and natto, fermented soy products
  • Sauerkraut

Vitamin K2 is fat-soluble, which means the body can access the nutrient only when combined with fat; lean meats have limited amounts of vitamin K2.

Supplements are widely available at reasonable cost, and may be more effective when taken with vitamin D. While the RDA for K2 is 1500 micrograms, dosages up to 45 milligrams (45,000 micrograms) have been safely used in test protocols.

Summary: If you have any doubts that you’re getting enough vitamin K2, adding rich food sources to your diet or taking a supplement could save your life.


1 comment… add one
  • I didn’t realize that vitamin K2 is beneficial in preventing things like heart disease. However, it really is something important to consider if your family is at risk for things like that. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself due to poor dieting choices. Do you have any articles about the best places to find vitamin K2?

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