VITAMIN K: The Missing Nutrient (Nope – NOT Calcium or Vitamin D)
By Dr. Mercola
The past decade has brought an explosion of research revealing the many beneficial roles vitamin D plays in keeping you healthy.
But there’s a new kid on the block that could end up being “the next vitamin D,” and we are finding that some of vitamin D’s benefits are greatly enhanced when combined with this other vitamin.
That “new kid” is vitamin K.
Much new research is now focusing on the synergy between vitamin K (specifically, vitamin K2) and vitamin D3, particularly in terms of bone strength and cardiovascular health.
Before discussing the influence of each of these vitamins, let’s review a bit about vitamins D and K and what their roles are.
Vitamin D: A Brief Review
Vitamin D is a key player in your overall health. The name is misleading — it isn’t actually a vitamin at all but a potent neuroregulatory steroidal hormone that influences nearly 3,000 of your 25,000 genes.1
It literally turns on and off genes that can exacerbate — or prevent — many diseases. Vitamin D has been shown to influence dozens of conditions, including:
Cancer Hypertension Heart disease
Autism Obesity Rheumatoid arthritis
Diabetes 1 and 2 Multiple Sclerosis Crohn’s disease
Cold & Flu Inflammatory Bowel Disease Tuberculosis
Septicemia Signs of aging Dementia
Eczema & Psoriasis Insomnia Hearing loss
Muscle pain Cavities Periodontal disease
Osteoporosis Macular degeneration Reduced C-section risk
Pre eclampsia Seizures Infertility
Asthma Cystic fibrosis Migraines
Depression Alzheimer’s disease Schizophrenia
One of the key factors explaining today’s high rates of chronic disease, besides poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency. It is estimated that 85 percent of Americans have insufficient levels of vitamin D.
Sadly, when the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) released their updated recommendations for vitamin D2 (and calcium) on November 30, 2010, it caused shockwaves of disappointment through the natural health community.
According to the IOM, the new recommended daily allowance (RDA)3 for pregnant women and adults up to 70 years of age is the same as that for infants and children — a measly 600 IUs. This despite the overwhelming evidence showing that vitamin D is extremely important for a wide variety of health conditions besides bone health, and that most people need about ten times this amount or more.
For more information, see this article on the IOM’s new vitamin D recommendations, as well as concerns shared by Dr. Cannell, found of the Vitamin D Council, and Carole Baggerly, founder of GrassrootsHealth.4
The best ways to increase your vitamin D levels, in my order of preference, are by:
- Exposing your skin natural sunlight. Vitamin D from sunlight acts as a pro-hormone, rapidly converting in your skin into 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or vitamin D3.
- Taking an oral vitamin D3 supplement whenever natural sun exposure is not an option.
Vitamin K Basics
Vitamin K may very well end up being as important for you as vitamin D, as research continues to illuminate the growing list of its benefits for your health. Vitamin K is probably where vitamin D was ten years ago, with respect to its appreciation as a vital nutrient that has far more advantages than originally thought.
And, according to Dr. Cees Vermeer, one of the world’s top researchers into vitamin K, nearly everyone is deficient in it — just like most people are deficient in vitamin D
Most of you get enough K from your diet to maintain adequate blood clotting, but NOT enough to offer protection against the following health problems — and the list continues to grow:
Arterial calcification, cardiovascular disease, and varicose veins Brain health problems, including dementia (the specifics of which are under study)
Osteoporosis Tooth decay
Prostate cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, and leukemia Infectious diseases, such as pneumonia
Vitamin K exists in two basic forms: K1 and K2:
- Vitamin K1: Found in green vegetables, K1 goes directly to your liver and helps you maintain a healthy blood clotting system. (This is the kind of K that infants need to help prevent a serious bleeding disorder.)
- Vitamin K2: Bacteria produce this type of vitamin K. It is present in high quantities in your gut, but unfortunately is not absorbed from there and passes out in your stool. K2 goes straight to vessel walls, bones, and tissues other than your liver.
Making a long story even longer, there are several different forms of vitamin K2: MK4, MK7, MK8, and MK9. The form of vitamin K that has the most significance for our purposes here is MK7, a newer and longer acting form with more practical applications.
Most vitamin K2 supplements are in the form MK7.
MK7 is extracted from the Japanese fermented soy product called natto. You could actually get loads of MK7 from consuming natto as it is relatively inexpensive, and is available in most Asian food markets. Few people, however, tolerate its smell and slimy texture, so most people who find natto unpalatable prefer to take a supplement. You can also get MK7 by eating fermented cheeses.
For a comprehensive exploration of all the research and functions of vitamin K, refer to this article on the Weston Price website.
Now, how do vitamin D and vitamin K play together?
Vitamins D and K: ‘The Gatekeeper and the Traffic Cop’
One of the undisputed benefits vitamin D provides for you is improved bone development by helping you ABSORB calcium. This is not news — we have known about vitamin D and the absorption of calcium for many decades.
But there is new evidence that it is the vitamin K (specifically, vitamin K2) that directs the calcium to your skeleton, while preventing it from being deposited where you don’t want it — i.e., your organs, joint spaces, and arteries. A large part of arterial plaque consists of calcium deposits (atherosclerosis), hence the term “hardening of the arteries.”
Vitamin K2 activates a protein hormone called osteocalcin, produced by osteoblasts, which is needed to bind calcium into the matrix of your bone. Osteocalcin also appears to help prevent calcium from depositing into your arteries.
You can think of vitamin D as the gatekeeper, controlling who gets in, and vitamin K as the traffic cop, directing the traffic to where it needs to go.
Lots of traffic — but no traffic cop — means clogging, crowding, and chaos everywhere!
In other words, without the help of vitamin K2, the calcium that your vitamin D so effectively lets in might be working AGAINST you — by building up your coronary arteries rather than your bones.
There is even evidence that the safety of vitamin D is dependent on vitamin K, and that vitamin D toxicity (although very rare with the D3 form) is actually caused by vitamin K2 deficiency.5
Vitamin K, Vitamin D, and Cardiovascular Disease
When your body’s soft tissues are damaged, they respond with an inflammatory process that can result in the deposition of calcium into the damaged tissue. When this occurs in your blood vessels, you have the underlying mechanism of coronary artery disease — the buildup of plaque — that can lead you down the path to a heart attack.
Vitamin K and vitamin D work together to increase Matrix GLA Protein (or MGP), the protein responsible for protecting your blood vessels from calcification. In healthy arteries, MGP congregates around the elastic fibers of your tunica media (arterial lining), guarding them against calcium crystal formation
MGP is so important that it can be used as a laboratory measure of your vascular and cardiac status.
According to Professor Cees Vermeer:6
“Theonlymechanismfor arteries to protect themselves from calcification is via the vitamin K-dependent protein MGP. MPG is the most powerful inhibitor of soft tissue calcification presently known, but non?supplemented healthy adults are insufficient in vitamin K to a level that 30 per cent of their MGP is synthesized in an inactive form.
So, protection against cardiovascular calcification is only 70 per cent in the young, healthy population, and this figure decreases at increasing age.”
As you would predict, scientific studies confirm that increased dietary intake of vitamin K2 does indeed reduce your risk for coronary heart disease:7
- In 2004, the Rotterdam study was the first study demonstrating the life-extending effects of vitamin K2. People who had the highest intake of vitamin K2 had 50 percent lower risk of death from coronary heart disease and calcification than people with the lowest intake of vitamin K2.
- In a subsequent study called the Prospect study, 16,000 people were followed for 10 years. Researchers found that each additional 10 mcg of vitamin K2 in the diet resulted in nine percent fewer cardiac events.
- Animal studies show that vitamin K2 not only prevents hardening of the arteries but can actually reverse calcification of highly calcified arteries by activating MGP.
- People with severe calcifications have high percentages of inactive osteocalcin, which indicates a general deficiency of vitamin K2.
Let’s take a look at how calcium supplements play into all of this.
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