Vitamin K2, D and Calcium
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin known for the important role it plays in blood clotting. However, there are different kinds of vitamin K, and they are completely different.
The health benefits of vitamin K2 go far beyond blood clotting, which is done by vitamin K1, and vitamin K2 also works in partnership with a number of other nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D.
The importance of Vitamin K2?
Vitamin K is actually a group of fat-soluble vitamins. Of the two main ones, K1 and K2, the one receiving the most attention is K1, which is found in green leafy vegetables and is very easy to get through your diet. This lack of distinction has created a lot of confusion, and it’s one of the reasons why vitamin K2 has been overlooked for so long.
The three types of vitamin K are:
- Vitamin K1, is found naturally in plants, especially green vegetables; K1 goes directly to your liver and helps you maintain healthy blood clotting
- Vitamin K2, is made by the bacteria that line your gastrointestinal tract; K2 goes straight to your blood vessel walls, bones, and tissues other than your liver
- Vitamin K3, is a synthetic form. It’s important to note that toxicity has occurred in infants injected with this synthetic vitamin K3
It also plays a role in removing calcium from areas where it shouldn’t be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues.
“K2 is really critical for keeping your bones strong and your arteries clear,”
Vitamin K2 can be broken into two additional categories, called:
- MK-4 (menaquinone-4), a short-chain form of vitamin K2 found in butter, egg yolks, and animal-based foods
- MK-7 (menaquinone-7), longer-chain forms found in fermented foods. There’s a variety of these long-chain forms but the most common one is MK-7. This is the one you’ll want to look for in supplements, because in a supplement form, the MK-4 products are actually synthetic. They are not derived from natural food products containing MK-4.
Vitamin K1 exclusively participates in blood clotting — that’s its sole purpose.
K2 on the other hand comes from a whole different set of food sources, and its biological role is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth.
The MK-7 – these long-chain, natural bacterial-derived vitamin K2 – is from a fermentation process, which offers a number of health advantages:
- It stays in your body longer, and
- It has a longer half-life, which means you can just take it once a day in very convenient dosing
How Much Vitamin K2 Do You Need?
The optimal amounts of vitamin K2 are still under investigation, but it seems likely that 180 to 200 micrograms of vitamin K2 should be enough to activate your body’s K2-dependent proteins to shuttle the calcium where it needs to be, and remove it from the places where it shouldn’t.
When we’re lacking K2, we’re at much greater risk for osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer. And these are three concerns that used to be relatively rare. Over the last 100 years, as we’ve changed the way we produced our food and the way we eat, they have become very common.
Researchers are also looking into other health benefits. For example, one recent study published in the journal Modern Rheumatologyfound that vitamin K2 has the potential to improve disease activity besides osteoporosis in those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Another, published in the journal Science, found that vitamin K2 serves as a mitochondrial electron carrier, thereby helping maintain normal ATP production in mitochondrial dysfunction, such as that found in Parkinson’s Disease.
The Interplay Between Vitamin K2, Vitamin D, and Calcium
Vitamin D is a critical nutrient for optimal health and is best obtained from sun exposure. However, many are taking oral vitamin D, which may become problematic unless you’re also getting sufficient amounts of vitamin K2.
When you take vitamin D, your body creates more of these vitamin K2-dependent proteins, the proteins that will move the calcium around. They have a lot of potential health benefits. But until the K2 comes in to activate those proteins, those benefits aren’t realized. So, really, if you’re taking vitamin D, you’re creating an increased demand for K2. And vitamin D and K2 work together to strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.
… For so long, we’ve been told to take calcium for osteoporosis… and vitamin D, which we know is helpful. But then, more studies are coming out showing that increased calcium intake is causing more heart attacks and strokes. That created a lot of confusion around whether calcium is safe or not. But that’s the wrong question to be asking, because we’ll never properly understand the health benefits of calcium or vitamin D, unless we take into consideration K2. That’s what keeps the calcium in its right place.
IMPORTANT: If You Take Vitamin D, You Need K2
This is a really crucial point: If you opt for oral vitamin D, you need to also consume in your food or take supplemental vitamin K2.
There are so many people on the vitamin-D-mega-dose bandwagon, taking more and more of vitamin D. And it could absolutely be causing harm if you are lacking the K2 to complete the job to get the calcium where it’s supposed to be,.
About 150-200 micrograms of K2 will meet the need for the “average” healthy person.
The good news is that vitamin K2 has no toxicity. No toxic effects have ever been demonstrated in the medical literature.
If You Need Calcium, Aim for Calcium-Rich Foods First
For those who are calcium deficient, look to food sources high in calcium, before opting for a supplement. This is because many high calcium foods also contain naturally high amounts of vitamin K2!
Nature cleverly gives us these two nutrients in combination, so they work optimally. Good sources of calcium include dairy, especially cheeses, and vegetables, although veggies aren’t high in K2.
Additionally, magnesium is far more important than calcium if you are going to consider supplementing. Magnesium will also help keep calcium in the cell to do its job far better.
If you do chose to supplement with calcium, for whatever reason, it’s important to maintain the proper balance between your intake of calcium and other nutrients such as:
- Vitamin K2
- Vitamin D
The Importance of Magnesium
Magnesium is another important player to allow for proper function of calcium. As with vitamin D and K2, magnesium deficiency is also common, and when you are lacking in magnesium and take calcium, you may exacerbate the situation.
Vitamin K2 and magnesium complement each other, as magnesium helps lower blood pressure, which is an important component of heart disease.
Dietary sources of magnesium include sea vegetables, such as kelp, dulse, and nori. Few people eat these on a regular basis however, if at all. Vegetables can also be a good source, along with whole grains. However, grains MUST be prepared properly to remove phytates and anti-nutrients that can otherwise block your absorption of magnesium.
How Can You Tell if You’re Lacking in Vitamin K2?
There’s no way to test for vitamin K2 deficiency. But by assessing your diet and lifestyle, you can get an idea of whether or not you may be lacking in this critical nutrient. If you have any of the following health conditions, you’re likely deficient in vitamin K2 as they are all connected to K2:
- Do you have osteoporosis?
- Do you have heart disease?
- Do you have diabetes?
If you do not have any of those health conditions, but do NOT regularly eat high amounts of the following foods, then your likelihood of being vitamin K2 deficient is still very high:
- Grass-fed organic animal products (i.e. eggs, butter, dairy)
- Certain fermented foods such as natto, or vegetables fermented using a starter culture of vitamin K2-producing bacteria. Please note that most fermented vegetables are not really high in vitamin K2 and come in at about 50 mcg per serving. However, if specific starter cultures are used they can have ten times as much, or 500 mcg per serving.
- Goose liver pâté
- Certain cheeses such as Brie and Gouda (these two are particularly high in K2, containing about 75 mcg per ounce)
Fermented vegetables, which are one of my new passions, primarily for supplying beneficial bacteria back into our gut, can be a great source of vitamin K if you ferment your own using the proper starter culture.
Note that not every strain of bacteria makes K2. For example, most yoghurts have almost no vitamin K2. Certain types of cheeses are very high in K2, and others are not. It really depends on the specific bacteria. You can’t assume that any fermented food will be high in K2.