Vitamin K2 is the essential nutrient for health that almost no-one knows about.
Despite this lack of public knowledge, vitamin K2 deficiency can be devastating for your cardiovascular – and overall – health.
This article will explain what vitamin K2 is, where it can be found and why it is one of the most important micronutrients.
What is Vitamin K2?
Otherwise known as menaquinone, vitamin K2 is a fat-soluble vitamin referred to as “the missing link between diet, disease, and death.”
A Danish scientist named Henrik Dam made the discovery of the vitamin K group of vitamins in 1929 (1).
While this discovery came in the early 20th century, the beneficial effects of vitamin K2 are only recently coming to light (2).’
Vitamin K2 tends to be found in meats and also fermented foods – especially cheese (1).
As it exerts such a powerful influence on our overall health, it should play a role in everyone’s diet.
Weston A Price and Vitamin K2
Also important in the history of vitamin K2 was Weston A Price, a dentist of legend in the nutrition world.
As well as being famed for his promotion of traditional foods, he played a big part in bringing vitamin K2 into the public light.
Except that’s not entirely accurate.
As a matter of fact, Weston Price did discover a nutrient found in the diets of traditional people. The only problem was that he could not identify it.
Discovery of the Mystery ‘Activator X’ Nutrient
While practising dentistry, Weston Price couldn’t believe the poor dental health of his patients.
Especially concerning for him were the young children coming to him with cavities.
In light of this, and to try and understand this relatively new phenomenon, he travelled the world to find cultures exhibiting perfect dental health.
He found many.
In fact, all of these cultures had one thing in common: a diet free of Western foods in the form of refined grains, sugars, and other products of industry.
Not only that but also their diets all contained a variety of animal products full of fat-soluble vitamins.
Particularly interesting to him was one specific mystery nutrient that appeared to have significant health benefits.
Unfortunately, he could not identify it, so he just referred to it as ‘Activator X.’
It took a long time, but we now finally know this nutrient by its name: vitamin K2.
What Does Vitamin K2 Do?
Playing a whole host of beneficial roles in the body, Vitamin K2 is especially important for cardiovascular health.
Vitamin K2 Benefits the Heart
Menaquinone may just prevent you from having a heart attack.
First of all, let me sum it up like this: those consuming the highest amounts of vitamin K2 have the lowest risk of developing cardiovascular heart disease (4).
In fact, dozens of studies show how menaquinone positively impacts the cardiovascular system.
Here are a few more findings:
- Vitamin K2 prevents accumulation of calcium in arteries and improves arterial flexibility (5).
- In a study consisting of 16,047 women, those who consumed the most vitamin K2 had a lower risk of developing heart disease (6).
- Vitamin K2 can inhibit or reduce progression of atherosclerosis (calcification of the arteries (7).
- Daily doses of vitamin K2 prevent progression of atherosclerotic plaque in animal studies (8).
Sounds good, right? But it’s not only the heart that benefits from dietary vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 Benefits Cancer Risk
Along with diabetes and heart disease, cancer is another of the apparent ‘diseases of civilisation’.
This term is a reference to the fundamental changes in our diet and lifestyle that have brought about rising rates of modern disease (9).
In fact, in 2016 more than 1,685,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the United States alone.
Additionally, according to the latest statistics, 1630 Americans die from cancer every single day (10).
Loss of life from cancer is always terribly sad, but fortunately, there are steps we can take to help reduce our risk.
Ensuring adequate dietary intake of vitamin K2 is one of these.
Vitamin K2 benefits the body in several ways relating to cancer risk. One way is through menaquinone’s ability to activate growth-inhibiting proteins in the body (11).
Another important consideration is apoptosis. Apoptosis is the word used to define the death of a cell in the body.
Put simply; apoptosis is a program – cells are programmed to die eventually. This inevitability stops damaged or dysfunctional cells from becoming a danger to our body.
Generally speaking, most cancer cells in the body die before they become a problem.
However, cancer cells occasionally start to avoid the apoptosis process, grow uncontrollably, and disease takes hold.
Therefore, another compelling benefit of vitamin K2 is that it appears capable of inducing apoptosis in cancer cells (12).
Another interesting point to note is the long-term studies that analyze daily vitamin K2 intake versus cancer risk.
Vitamin K2 and Vitamin D Interaction: the Essential Link
One of the most noteworthy aspects of vitamin K2 is the interaction it has with vitamin D.
For anyone who is supplementing with vitamin D, I would say that adding vitamin K2 is essential.
Let’s take a look at why.
In other words, we absorb more calcium from our food – a good thing!
Equally important, though, is where that calcium is going.
Recent research shows that vitamin D does not instruct where calcium goes within the body.
As excess calcium can lead to arterial calcification, it’s important to stop its deposition in places where we don’t want it to be. That is the job of vitamin K2.
While vitamin D helps calcium absorption, vitamin K2 takes responsibility for directing where that calcium goes once in the body.
The result is that calcium is deposited in the bone of the skeletal system rather than to the arteries.
In brief, adequate intake of vitamin K2 keeps our bone hard and our arteries soft – much better than the other way around! (18)
Vitamin K2 Foods
To get vitamin K2 benefits, you need to be eating foods rich in the nutrient.
There are several subtypes of it, but the two major subtypes are MK4 and MK7.
The MK4 form of vitamin K2 is predominantly from animal products in the shape of meat and dairy.
Some of the best sources of vitamin K2 in the MK4 form are:
- Butter from grass-fed cows
- Egg yolks (never throw out the yolks – they are the most nutritious part!)
- Grass-fed beef/steak
- Hard cheese (the older, the better and from grass-fed cows)
- Pastured pork
However, you should be aware that many health organizations still only promote vegetables when it comes to vitamin K content.
The truth; vegetable sources provide vitamin K1, a form that needs converting into vitamin K2.
This is something our body is quite poor at doing.
In a word: the focus on vegetables is disappointing.
Because in fact, the MK4 form of vitamin K2 is readily absorbable and just an excellent source of this nutrient.
A study from earlier in 2016 looked into this very issue.
Most noteworthy was their conclusion: “processed and fresh-cut pork products are a rich dietary source of menaquinones that are currently unaccounted for in the assessment of vitamin K in the food supply”.
And just in case you still need convincing to embrace fatty cuts of meat:
“The total menaquinone contents were correlated with fat content” (19).
The lesson? Eat your fatty meat.
We can usually find the MK7 form of vitamin K2 in fermented foods.
Particularly relevant to this group is natto which, unlike most plant-based sources, is extremely high in vitamin K2.
Usually, I’m not a fan of soy at all; soybean oil and various processed soy flours are some of the most damaging commercial foods in existence.
While it’s best to stay away from processed soy, fermented soy is a little different.
As a traditional Japanese food, the health-conscious Japanese believe it to be health and longevity-promoting.
Studies would seem to agree; Japanese people who eat large amounts of natto have much better bone mass density than those who don’t (20).
Other foods rich in Vitamin K2 from the MK7 subtype include fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and other preserved vegetables.
Aside from Natto, fermented foods are not a huge source of the vitamin.
Personally, I prefer to get my vitamin K2 from fatty animal foods.
Are Vitamin K2 Supplements Good For Health?
I’m a firm believer in getting nutrients from real food rather than a little white tablet.
So if you can get vitamin K2 from food, that would be ideal in my book.
If you decide that supplementation is right for you, what kind of supplement should you choose?
You have two choices: MK4 and MK7.
Particularly important though is that the MK4 supplement is not the same as MK4 from food. It is a synthetic version of the nutrient.
MK7 supplements can also be synthetic, but you can also find ones that contain a bacterial extract derived from natto. If I were to choose a vitamin K2 supplement, I’d opt for one like this.
All in all, vitamin K2 is a necessary nutrient for a healthy body (and heart).
As well as decreasing the risk of several serious diseases, it also helps promote optimal bone mass density as we age.
Therefore ask yourself if you are eating enough foods high in vitamin K2.
If the answer is no, then it would be worth increasing the amount of these foods in your diet.
In that regard, a diet rich in nutrient-dense animal foods is the way to go.
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