(DougCookRD.com) Vitamin K2 has been referred to by many as the new vitamin D. Ironically, while it seems like a new nutrient, it was first described some 80 years ago but due to some misnaming of the vitamin and a lack of understanding in its role, vitamin K2 was lost for some 80 years. Although it’s new to most of us, vitamin K2 is hot, hot, hot and of keen interest of nutrition researchers with new studies underway. Vitamin K2 benefits are far reaching, not unlike vitamin D. On a brief side note, if vitamin K2 is the new vitamin D, then iodine is the new, new vitamin D – watch for iodine to get its fair share of the spot light in the next year or two.
Vitamin K2 benefits
I’ve written about the benefits of vitamin K2 here, here, here, and here. The benefits have focused on bone and teeth health as well as atherosclerosis and vascular health as it pertains to vitamin K2′s role in calcium metabolism; in this context, vitamin K2 helps to shuttle calcium into bones and teeth where it belongs and helps to keep it out of the blood vessels. Without adequate vitamin K2, we get what is known as the calcium paradox: lots of calcium in the blood stream and available to go to work but we end up with too much in the blood vessels, a.k.a atherosclerosis or vascular calcification and too little in the bones, a.k.a. osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Some of the latest benefits of vitamin K2 is it role in preventing wrinkles, skin sagging, varicose veins, cavities, diabetes, kidney disease, prostate, breast, and liver cancer.
Dr Kate Rheaume-Bleue, author of the Calcium Paradox, writes, “when it comes to skin, it seems that a K2 deficiency might be written all over your face”. Research has found a strong association between excessive skin wrinkling and vitamin K2 deficiency. In fact, the severity of a postmenopausal woman’s facial wrinkles predicts her risk of osteoporosis. It has been speculated that one of the reasons why Japanese women have fewer wrinkles and less skin sagging than North American women may be due to their high blood levels of vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 helps to maintain the integrity of the tiny blood capillaries that feed the skin and it’s suspected that vitamin K2 plays a vital role in the health of all blood vessels, including those of the legs. With inadequate amounts of vitamin K2, veins are more susceptible to bulging and distension explaining why vitamin K2 status is associated as well with varicose veins.
You might be wondering how vitamin K2 can help to prevent and manage diabetes. Turns out that our bones help to control diabetes. Bones produce a hormone called osteocalcin to help build denser bones, but osteocalcin has also been shown to improve both insulin secretion and sensitivity; a major underlying factor in the development of Type 2 diabetes. Since osteocalcin in a vitamin K2-dependent protein, researchers are now asking and focusing on the prevalent vitamin K2 deficiency as one of the underlying risk factors for the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes we’re now facing.
Maintaining healthy teeth throughout life is one of the best anti-aging strategies there is. I’ve seen first hand the negative impact that poor dentition, or bad teeth, has on the ability of an older adult to adequately chew, and therefore eat, a variety of nutritious foods thereby increasing their risk for malnutrition. A healthy body requires the delivery of healthy nutrition to the stomach and beyond; that all starts with the mouth.
Vitamin K2 is critical to strong, cavity-resistant teeth by helping dentin produce osteocalcin whose job it is to deposit calcium and other minerals into the enamel. This probably explains why the salivary glands, and saliva, have the second highest concentration of vitamin K2 (after the pancreas) provided adequate amounts are in the diet or by supplementation.
Food sources of vitamin K2 are rare, where once it was abundant, now that we move our cows from pasture, where they used to eat grass, to steady diet of corn and soy. The best sources is milk, cheese and butter from grass-fed cows, egg yolks, and natto, a fermented soy bean dish [although it apparently seems like a cross between a sewer and compost, unlikely to be picked up by North Americans who didn’t grow up eating it like some people in Japan]. Although cows’ milk is low in vitamin K2, aged cheeses are still a good source as the bacteria that are used are able to convert the vitamin K1 in the milk into the preferred form of K2. Another viable source is goose liver pate.
Striving to include these foods sources is a good idea but most are not likely to eat them daily, if not weekly, and so supplementation is strongly recommended. Remember, look for vitamin K2 and not K1.