The Health Benefits of Vitamin K2
From the desk of Jessica L. Molleur, Lic.Ac., DNBAO...
This week's blog is regarding Vitamin K2-an important vitamin essential for heart health, bone health, fertility, and much more. I posted this article back in June but with the recent explosion of Vitamin K2 supplements available, I thought it would be worth a repost. The story of Vitamin K2 is long and windy, but it is worth the read given its vital importance for your overall health. In the past few years, the subject of Vitamin D has been a hot topic among health care practitioners and I can only hope that the conversation begins to include Vitamin K2.
Here is a list of conditions associated with Vitamin K2 deficiency:
- Atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries which may lead to strokes, heart attacks, other cardiovascular diseases)
- Crohn’s Disease
- Dental cavities & narrowing of the dental arch in both children and adults
- Increased risk of cancer including breast, prostate, and liver
- Infertility (including male fertility in relation to regulating testosterone levels)
- Kidney Disease
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
You may be wondering why you’ve never heard of Vitamin K2, if it is so important in the body. When I mention Vitamin K2 along with its benefits, the typical response from my clients is a blank stare. Most of my patients have never heard of Vitamin K2 and there is good reason. Vitamin K2 and its discovery simply got lost in the shuffle. I’ve included a brief history about the discovery of Vitamin K2 later in this blog. The forgotten discovery of K2 helps us to understand why this vitamin is relatively unknown and not well understood. However, let’s first talk about what it does and how you can get it into your diet.
How does Vitamin K2 work?
Vitamin K2 works by activating proteins to assist calcium to deposit in your skeleton. K2 also activates another protein called matrix Gla-protein (MGP) which helps to remove calcium out of soft tissues such as the arteries and veins where minerals can be potentially harmful. These mechanisms help in the prevention of both cardiovascular disease as well as osteoporosis and tooth decay. In addition to being important for bone metabolism and maintaining the elasticity of the cardiovascular system, Vitamin K2 is also thought to help activate other proteins responsible for inhibiting cancerous growths. Last but not least, Vitamin K2 is also found in high concentrations in the brain where it contributes to myelin production. K2 is thought to be protective against free radical damage in the brain and potentially play a role in the development of the central nervous system. Additionally, we know that it plays a role in insulin sensitivity and blood glucose linking it to two related disorders: diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Why is Vitamin K2 important for fertility?
A study in 2016, examined the role of Vitamin K2 and PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and found that Vitamin K2 lowered levels of DHEA and free testosterone. We know as well that studies have shown Vitamin K2 to improve insulin sensitivity in diabetes patients leading researchers to believe that Vitamin K2 would have similar benefits for patients with PCOS. Initial animal studies have also shown that Vitamin K2 improves testosterone production therefore having the potential to improve sperm counts and other functional measure of sperm. As male sperm count has been dropping precipitously since the the beginning of the previous century, this may be an important vitamin to recommend to your male partner if you are trying to conceive. Studies have also shown Vitamin K1 deficiency to occur in higher rates in patients with endometriosis with severe bleeding. Vitamin K1 and Vitamin K2 have different properties and should not be confused as equivalents. Although I am not aware of any studies that have been done on Vitamin K2 and endometriosis as of writing this entry, I can only wonder if there is a connection between Vitamin K2 and the severity and onset of endometriosis similar to studies linking Vitamin D to the severity and onset of endometriosis. Additionally, with Vitamin K2 being linked to teeth formation and central nervous development, one can make the leap that this is a vitamin extremely important for prenatal care. Plus, wouldn’t it be nice if your child didn’t need braces?
How do you get Vitamin K2 in your Diet?
Now that you know how important Vitamin K2 is in the body, how do you get Vitamin K2 in your diet? The body does not maintain large stores of Vitamin K2, therefore we need to eat foods rich in K2 to keep this catalyst working for us. However, the only food source include organ meats, goose liver pate, as well as other grass-fed meats, grass-fed eggs, and grass-fed dairy products. Additionally, fermented foods such as Brie and Roquefort cheeses contain Vitamin K2. The best source of K2 is natto-a Japanese fermented food. If you choose to eat these foods-do so knowing you're getting some Vitamin K2 in your diet! If you are eating a daily dose of non-GMO natto-congratulations! You are probably one of the few people getting an optimal level of Vitamin K2 in your diet. Since most of us are not eating pasture-raised animals, fermented cheeses, or natto, then you'll most likely need to supplement. Still curious about why this nutrient was not upheld as one of the greatest discoveries in nutrition? Here’s a few more words about the discovery of Vitamin K2:
The Discovery of Vitamin K2
In the 1930s, Danish biochemist Henrik Dam discovered Vitamin K1. The vitamin was named Vitamin K for the word "koagulation" due to its important role in blood clotting. An American researcher by the name of Edward Doisy then determined Vitamin K's structure. The two researchers together won the 1943 Nobel Prize in Physiology for their discovery of this important nutrient. Both of these researchers recognized that Vitamin K had two forms (Vitamin K1 and Vitamin K2). However, they considered them to be the same vitamin, not recognizing that Vitamin K2 had distinct properties outside of blood clotting. Vitamin K1 is highly recycled in the body, therefore, the body needs very small doses to maintain adequate levels. As a result, the story of Vitamin K and its discovery ended there.
Around the same time, a dentist by the name of Weston Price started to research the connection between nutrition and chronic illness. Dr. Price was concerned by the number of patients in his practice experiencing both chronic illness along with tooth decay and gum disease. He and his wife embarked on a global adventure to discover the root cause of these conditions. During this time, he noted that many indigenous families lived without such luxuries as medical or dental care, or a toothbrush and floss! However, they were generally living without the nuisance of chronic illness. Additionally, he noted that their children had perfectly straight teeth, excellent jaw formation, without tooth decay or gum disease.
His determination to solve this paradox led him to compare dietary practices. As a result, he discovered a fat-soluble vitamin and called it: "activator X". Price demonstrated that the lack of this “activator X” resulted in a reproducible pattern of disease including tooth decay, gum disease, and other chronic illnesses. His documentation showed that the diets of healthy, native populations contained at least four times more minerals and water-soluble vitamins as well as ten times the amount of fat-soluble vitamins in comparison to the the standard American diet at the time. You may guess by now that this “activator X” is now what is known to be Vitamin K2. Still, his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and its findings did not become mainstream nutritional advice.
Tragically, it was not until 1997, when an study determined that Vitamin K2 was essential for two processes unrelated to blood clotting: helping calcium deposit in the bones and preventing calcification of arteries. In 2007, an additional study showed that Vitamin K2 deficiency was widespread. In other words, the majority of the population was no longer eating pasture-raised animals and had become silently deficient. It took almost 70 years for the scientific community to recognize the importance of “activator X”!
More Information About Vitamin K2
Although this blog entry is longer than typical posts, it only covers a fraction of the information about Vitamin K2. For more information, please turn to two of my favorite experts on this subject. The Ultimate Vitamin K2 Resource, is a website created by Chris Masterjohn, Ph.D. detailing everything that you could possibly want to know about Vitamin K2. Additionally, Kate Rheaume-Bleue, B.Sc., N.D. wrote the book, Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox which I now include on my Women’s Health Book List.
Until then, happy natto eating!
Jessica L. Molleur, Lic.Ac., DNBAO
Jessica L. Molleur is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and massage therapist in Massachusetts and California. She holds a Masters of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco, CA. She is a National Diplomate of Acupuncture, Oriental Medicine and Chinese Herbology through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Following her acupuncture licensure, she became a Diplomate of Acupuncture Orthopedics. This orthopedic specialty certification is held by fewer than 500 acupuncturists in the United States. Prior to studying Traditional Chinese Medicine, she graduated from the University of California at Davis with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Physiology. Jessica first became interested in acupuncture as a soccer player searching for an alternative to knee surgery.
She currently maintains a private acupuncture practice in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. Her practice was awarded Best Acupuncture Center by Boston Magazine. Areas of specialty include women's health, pregnancy, infertility, pediatrics, and sports medicine. For clients interested in learning more about the benefits of acupuncture for fertility and IVF, please visit our acupuncture + fertility page. New patients can book online to schedule any acupuncture service including a complimentary consult.
In addition to seeing patients in her private practice, Jessica works as a health care consultant for integrative medical institutes in the United States. Her clients include IVF and infertility centers, functional medicine offices, orthopedic facilities, concierge practices, and green spas. If you are interested in learning more about these services, please contact OMBE.
Prior to her consulting work, Jessica founded an integrative health center in Boston. The eco-friendly center was one of the first twenty-five companies certified as a Sustainable Business Leader in Boston. During its ten-year tenure, the center provided services including acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, naturopathy, nutritional counseling, personal training, Pilates, and yoga. The center's class studio offered mom and baby programming, Mongan Method Hypnobirthing, natural childbirth education, the Holistic Moms Network, as well as ballet barre, Pilates, and yoga classes. The center was the recipient of several awards, including Mayor Menino's Green Business Award, a multiple recipient of Boston Business Journal's Best Workplace, Boston Magazine's Best of Boston Award for Massage Therapy as well as Best Eco-Friendly Massage, Eco-Beauty Bar, Nutritionist, Personal Trainer, Pilates, and Workout.