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Lack of vitamin K increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, fragile bones, and other health problems

Lack of vitamin K increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, fragile bones, and other health problemsVitamin K is primarily for its role in helping blood coagulate. Otherwise, the vitamin is heavily underrated. For instance, the bones depend on vitamin K, and those people who consume the greatest amounts of vitamin K have the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, and blood clots. It is important to know the difference between vitamin K1 and K2 and to know how well they get absorbed in the body.

Vitamin K was discovered in a collaboration between the Danish biochemist Henrik Dam and the American biochemist Edward Adelbert Doisy, an achievement for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1943. Since then, vitamin K has not been getting all that much attention. However, Dr. Leon Schurgers who wrote a thesis on vitamin K initiated his research 21 years ago at the Maastricht University in Holland. Today, he is considered as one of the leading researchers of vitamin K, a nutrient that turns out to have numerous vital functions.

Remember vitamin K2 for your bones

In the 1980s, it was discovered that vitamin K2 takes part in the activation of osteocalcin, a protein that is found in bone tissue. In other words, vitamin K2 is important for the calcium metabolism and helps produce the proteins that work by embedding calcium in bone tissue. Together with calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, vitamin K2 helps build and maintain strong bones. Still, most supplements for bone health only contain calcium and vitamin D, which is why they do not function optimally.

Vitamin K2 prevents atherosclerosis

Later, it was discovered that vitamin K2 activates another protein called matrix gla protein (MGP), which is primarily found in blood vessels. Active MGP has a powerful ability to prevent atherosclerosis. If a person lacks vitamin K2 or tends to inactivate MGP, the arteries (the blood vessels carrying blood from the heart) end up calcifying. That is why vitamin K2 is so important for the cardiovascular system. In fact, evidence suggests that the vitamin may reduce already existing atherosclerosis.

The coagulating factors of vitamin K

According to Dr. Schurgers, vitamin K1 and K2 have the same biochemical ring structure. The two types of vitamin K merely have different side chains. As mentioned, vitamin K1 is primarily known for its role in helping blood coagulate. Dr. Shurgers points out that both vitamin K1 and K2 are able to activate certain coagulation factors but there is no danger of the blood coagulating too much if you ingest large quantities of vitamin K1 and K2. Both vitamins are perfectly safe to consume, as long as you are not in treatment with an anticoagulant.

Vitamin K sources and vital differences in absorption

Vitamin K1 is found in dark-green vegetables such as parsley, spinach, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts. It is also found in cauliflower, red cabbage, beans, avocado, and apples. However, we only absorb around 10 per cent of vitamin K1 from green vegetables.
Vitamin K2 is only found in fermented products such as sauerkraut, kefir, soft cheeses like brie, and especially the Japanese soy product called Natto, where vitamin K2 is formed from bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis as part of the fermentation process. Although the amount of K2 is lower in aged cheese than in green vegetables, nearly all the vitamin K2 from cheese is absorbed in the body.
Pasteurized products do not contain very much vitamin K2. It is only dairy products from grazing animals that develop high levels of vitamin K2. It is possible to increase your vitamin K2 intake by consuming fermented products that are produced with a starter culture where the bacterial flora is aimed at producing vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is even produced from vitamin K1 in the intestines, but that requires a well-functioning intestinal microflora.

Vitamin K2 content in

  • 100 grams of Natto: Around 1,000 micrograms
  • 60 grams of fermented vegetables: Around 500 micrograms
  • 30 grams of Gauda cheese or brie: Around 70 micrograms                                                                                                  

Why vitamin K2 is important for the bones and cardiovascular system

A Dutch study showed that those study participants who consumed the greatest amounts of vitamin K2 had the lowest incidence of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis and the lowest risk of dying of these health problems. This was a very important discovery, as this correlation was not seen with vitamin K1. The study shows that after being absorbed, vitamin K1 continues to the liver and stays there. Vitamin K2 also continues to the liver, but the liver re-emits vitamin K2 via LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) to the cardiovascular system and the bones, where the vitamin has beneficial functions.

Vitamin K2 has two essential functions:

It carries calcium away from the blood vessels to the bones, where the mineral is most needed, and it activates MGP that counteracts atherosclerosis.             

The brain's circulatory system

Vitamin K2 even seems to have a positive influence on the circulatory system of the brain. Autopsies reveal that many Alzheimer's sufferers have degenerated blood vessels in the brain, and this is believed to cause the symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease. Although more research is needed, it appears that vitamin K2 contributes to the prevention of Alzheimer's disease by counteracting amyloid plaque formations in the brain. Dr. Schurgers points to another study showing that vitamin K2 also has a positive role in patients with Parkinson's disease and may even be advantageous as part of the treatment.

Widespread deficiency and poor utilization

Although vitamin K deficiencies as such are not common, newer research suggests that lack of vitamin K2 specifically is widespread. However, because the K vitamins are quickly passed on to the liver, it is difficult to determine blood levels of the vitamin. A much more reliable method is therefore to measure the active and inactive MGP forms. When using this type of test, Schurgers points out, most people are vitamin K deficient. He also points out that patients with the highest levels of inactive MPG have the greatest risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. A vitamin K deficiency does not only occur in those with unhealthy diets. It is also seen in neonates, premature babies, and in people with prolonged use of medical drugs such as antibiotics, antacids, acetylsalicylic acid, cholesterol-lowering statins, and preparations with warfarin and dicumarol that work as vitamin K antagonists against blood clots.

How much vitamin K do we need?

According to Dr. Schurgers, we should consume at least 200 grams of vegetables daily. He also recommends fermented products that provide good absorption and utilization of the nutrient. As far as vitamin K2 is concerned, we need at least 45 micrograms daily in order to counteract cardiovascular disease. This is supported by the Dutch study where people who took 45 micrograms of vitamin K2 daily lived seven years longer on average than those who only took 12 micrograms. Although the optimal daily intake level has not yet been established, other studies suggest that we can easily consume much greater quantities, and that this is perfectly safe and without the risk of side effects.

In the old days we got much more vitamin K2 from the diet

This was because it was common practice to extend the durability of many foods by means of fermentation. Today, we use pasteurization, preservatives, refrigeration, and freezing.                  

Vitamin K2 and blood thinners

People who take drugs with warfarin (a vitamin K antagonist) need a balanced intake of vitamin K from the diet. They should refrain from taking supplements of vitamin K or consuming foods with a high vitamin K content without consulting their physician first, as this may counteract the effect of their blood thinning medication.

Vitamin K2 is available from the diet and from supplements

Because vitamin K is fat-soluble, supplements of the nutrient should always be taken with a fat-containing meal in order to ensure good absorption.                      



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