Vitamin K – All you need to know!

Vitamin K – All you need to know!

Imagine for a moment that there is a vitamin that is capable of using the calcium that is absorbed by the organism to form and strengthen the bones, avoiding its accumulation in the arteries. This vitamin could simultaneously prevent several pathologies, from a heart attack to osteoporosis. Well, as incredible as it may seem, clinical studies have proven that vitamin K2 has exactly these properties.

Vitamin K2: natural prevention against osteoporosis and arteriosclerosis

At first sight, arteriosclerosis and osteoporosis have little in common. However, both are developed as we age.

Both osteoporosis and arteriosclerosis do not happen from one day to another, they have a slow development for decades, so that the person ignores that he or she suffers from this disorder until a they suffer a heart attack or a fracture. On the surface, there are no more similarities.

However, after analyzing the effects of vitamin K, scientists have reached the conclusion that it simultaneously provides strong bones and clean arteries. This is why we can claim that vitamin K is decisive in order to prevent two of the most common diseases of industrialized countries.

Information about Vitamin K

  • They are fat-soluble vitamins
  • They contribute to building and strengthening the bones and teeth
  • They prevent and reduce the calcium that is deposited in the arteries
  • They activate, in a natural way, the proteins that transport calcium (Gla proteins)
  • They guarantee blood clotting

Vitamin K2 is used:

  • To prevent and treat arteriosclerosis
  • To prevent and treat osteoporosis
  • To prevent sensitive teeth problems

Clinical studies have proven the effects of Vitamin K

The direct relation between vitamin K and cardiovascular diseases was first addressed in 2004, in a controlled clinical essay about the heart carried out in Rotterdam.[1]

Said study was developed for ten years, analyzing 4.807 women and men over the age of 55.

  • The study proved that those who consumed foods that are rich in vitamin K during that period had less calcification in the arteries.
  • At the same time, they had a lower risk, up to a 50%, of dying due to a cardiovascular disease. This decrease was observed in those who consumed more than 32mcg of vitamin K2 daily, as opposed to those who consumed a lot of vitamin K1.

An evaluation of seven blind double studies carried out on the vitamin K supplements consumption on adults, it was proven that its intake reduced up to a 60% the risk of suffering vertebral fractures, approximately a 77% the risk of suffering hip fractures and up to a 81% the risk of suffering fractures that do not affect Foucault’s apparatus. Moreover, it was also shown that vitamin K can slow down the breakdown of bone density.

What is Vitamin K?

Vitamin K is formed by a complete fat-soluble vitamins group which are essential for blood clotting and, therefore, to keep strong bones and healthy arteries.

The vitamin K group is divided in vitamin K1 (phytomenadione) and vitamin K2 (menaquinone).

Vitamin K1 plays a basic role in the coagulation of the blood. On the other hand, vitamin K2 activates the GLA proteins (gamma-carboxylglutamic acid), which are important for calcium control. This function has a strong impact in the health of the bones and arteries.

These GLA proteins help to bind calcium and the bone and they reduce the calcium deposits in the arteries. Therefore, a lack of vitamin K2 is associated to a higher risk of suffering arteriosclerosis and osteoporosis.

Use Vitamin K for your bones

Benefits of Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 has a unique effect among all the vitamins: it activates GLA proteins (gamma-carboxylglutamic acid) which are basic for coagulation and calcium control.

Up until now, fifteen different types have been found in this type of proteins. Scientists suspect that there are more than a hundred in the whole body. Vitamin K2 is the only one that activates these proteins.

GLA proteins activate the coagulation factors of the liver, osteocalcin in the bones, and the matrix GLA protein (MGP) in the bloodstream.

Therefore, GLA proteins help with coagulation, they guarantee that calcium can be stored in the bones and prevent and reduce calcium deposits in the arteries.

Calcium metabolism does not work without vitamin K2

If there is a vitamin K deficiency, calcium does not deposit in the bones, which results in osteoporosis. Vitamin K also increases the general minerals content in the bone tissue. Only a high mineral content provides a solid skeleton. When the organism has a vitamin K deficiency, the mineral density decreases and the bones become porous.

Due to this, a vitamin K deficiency produces calcium deposits in the arteries’ walls, which can produce cardiovascular, renal, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Vitamin K is in charge of regulating calcium

Vitamin K is responsible for triggering the so-called “carboxylation” of GLA proteins. During this process, GLA proteins visually form a type of claws with which they can adhere to calcium and move it.

Those proteins that do not have enough vitamin K cannot form these claws and, therefore, they cannot control the mineral. Without active GLA proteins, the calcium wanders uncontrolled from the bones, to the arteries and soft tissues of the organism.

Vitamin K protects the bones

The GLA protein, also known as osteocalcin, and it is related to bone density. Osteocalcin needs vitamin K to store calcium in the bones. Undercarboxylated osteocalcin (osteocalcin without vitamin K) cannot regulate calcium, which results in a reduction of calcium in the teeth and bones, which become porous. At the same time, calcium is accumulated in the arteries. Vitamin K can revert this process.

Vitamin K protects the arteries

Vitamin K activates the matrix GLA protein, which regulates calcium in the arteries’ walls. If there is a vitamin K deficiency, these proteins cannot be activated, which results in the formation of calcium deposits as atherosclerotic plaque.

This explains the fact that patients that use anti-coagulants (for example, Cumarines that inhibit the effect of vitamin K) suffer accelerated atherosclerosis.

Vitamin K Deficiency

It takes a long time to notice a lack of vitamin K. This is due to the fact that this vitamin is involved in processes in the organism that take a while to be completed. The first signs of a vitamin K2 deficiency are, for example, the bruises that appear sometimes by pressing lightly on the skin.

Bleeding wounds after a particularly strong or prolonged injury can point to a coagulation disorder and, therefore, a lack of vitamin K1.

People may have a lack of fat-soluble vitamins if they consume little fat in their diet, or the absorption of fat is compromised due to the use of certain medicines, or suffering some kind of pathology. Cystic fibrosis is a disease that causes a deficiency of those enzymes that are related to fat absorption in the intestine.

Diseases such as osteoporosis and the calcification of arteries are other symptoms of a vitamin K deficiency.

Other diseases that are related to a pathology of the intestinal system, such as Crohn’s syndrome or ulcerative colitis, will also produce a lack of vitamin K due to a poor nutritional absorption.

A low vitamin K consumption is a dietary risk factor for osteoporosis. Taking vitamin K supplementation daily can significantly increase mineral density, specially for those who have a higher risk to suffer from it, such as post-menopausal women.

Low vitamin K levels have been associated to a higher risk of arthritis. Possibly, proteins that are dependent of vitamin K and which have low activity within the joints could be an important conditioning element to increase this risk.

Who can specially benefit from vitamin K2?

  • Those who suffer a coagulation disorder
  • Old people with bone disease
  • Those with blood vessels diseases (arteriosclerosis)[2]
  • Children, to build and strengthen their bones
  • Those with teeth sensitivity

Since the body is not able to produce enough vitamin K, its supply to the organism has to be carried out through the diet or dietary supplements.

Old people need more vitamin K. Moreover, since vitamin K is mainly found in foods of animal origin, its additional consumption through supplementation is also advised to vegetarians and vegans.

Vitamin K activates the GLA proteins (gamma-carboxylgutamic acid) which are important for calcium control. Fifteen different proteins of this type have been discovered so far.

Vitamin K is the only one that activates these proteins. Without the activation of GLA proteins, calcium wanders uncontrolled from the bones to the arteries and other soft tissues.

Vitamin K protects from arteriosclerosis

Vitamin K and atherosclerosis

For more than half a century, it was believed that vitamin K was only necessary for a healthy coagulation. However, in the last years, it has been discovered that it has more benefits for the organism.

It has been found that the matrix GLA protein (MGP) is in charge of regulating calcium in the vascular tissue. The activation of this protein depends on vitamin K. If there is a vitamin K deficiency, the MGP cannot be activated and it triggers the hardening of the arteries and the calcium deposits as atherosclerotic plaque.[2]

Vitamin K supports Cardiovascular Health

This increases the risk of suffering a cardiovascular disease and it causes a pathology known as the “hardening of the arteries”. So much so, that the healthy arterial tissue has a 100 times more vitamin K than calcified arteries.

This also explains why those patients that use anticoagulant medicines (like Coumadin, that inhibits the effects of vitamin K in the body) suffer accelerated atherosclerosis.

What is arteriosclerosis?

The hardening of the arteries, commonly known as “arteriosclerosis” is currently the most common disease. Each second, someone in the world suffers its consequences, such as ischemia, thrombosis, angina pectoris, a myocardial infarction, or a cerebrovascular accident.

These diseases that affect the cardiovascular system cause a 55% of all the deaths that occur in the Western world.

Atherosclerosis is a degenerative change in the arteries, specially coronary arteries, which is slowly developed for decades. Calcification has been regarded as an unfavorable effect of aging by professional doctors for a long time.

However, now we know that arteriosclerosis is an actively controlled process. Calcification does not produce any symptoms, but when it is combined with fat deposits and a decrease of fluidity in the blood vessels, it can cause circulatory problems, resulting in obstructed vessels, angina pectoris, thrombosis, and later on, a heart attack or a stroke.

A study in Rotterdam has proven the benefits of vitamin K2

A normal calcium deposition takes place in two organs: the bones and teeth. An abnormal calcium deposition takes place in three locations: the internal layer of the arteries (intimate), in which the atherosclerotic plaque is accumulated, in the muscular layer of the arteries (“medial calcification”) and in the heart valves.

Vitamin K is the element that helps the organism the most to avoid the abnormal functioning of calcium.

Calcium has always been regarded as a passive marker of cardiovascular diseases. In theory, calcium is just a little residue in regard with the inflammatory activity.

According to this theory, calcium could be regarded as an indicator of a higher stability of the plaque, and it would not play an active role in the development of the atherosclerotic plaque.

The current research has refuted this conclusion. In the renowned “Heart Study” carried out in 2004, with 4807 participants for seven years[1], it was discovered that there is clear link between vitamin K levels and cardiovascular diseases. The conclusions of this study are the following:

  • It was found that those participants that consumed a higher amount of vitamin K reduced the onset of cardiovascular diseases in a 57%.
  • The previous statement could not be applied to those participants who consumed vitamin K1.[2]
  • It was proven that the consumption of vitamin K2 prevented the formation of calcium deposits in the aorta (which indirectly reduces arteriosclerosis).[2]
  • However, the participants that were given less amount of vitamin K suffered moderate or severe calcification.
  • It was found that those participants who consumed more than 32.7mcg of vitamin K had less risk of suffering a myocardial infarction and the calcification of the aorta.

With this information from the Heart Study in Rotterdam, it has been proven that there is a close relation between the intake of vitamin K and a decrease of cardiovascular diseases. This is due to the fact that vitamin K has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system overall and it inhibits the onset of arteriosclerosis.

The doctors are currently focused on stopping the calcium accumulation in the cardiovascular system, because they know that these deposits trigger the development of atherosclerotic plaque.

Therefore, calcium accumulation is a marker of the growth of arteriosclerotic plaque, and a vitamin K deficiency can produce this pathogenic process.

Can vitamin K revert arteriosclerosis?

A recent study carried out on animals in the Institute of Cardiovascular Research from the University of Maastricht (Netherlands) has proven that vitamin K does not only prevent calcification, but it can also revert this process.

The study was carried out on laboratory mice that were given the anti-coagulant warfarin in order to trigger calcification in their arteries. Then, some rats were given food with a high vitamin K content. The result was that those mice that were given this diet reduced, up to a 50 per cent, the calcium levels in their arteries when compared to the control group who followed a normal diet.[3]

Vitamin K helps to preserve our bones

The head of the study, the professor Leon Schurgers, talked about the results in the following way:

The latest findings about the role of vitamin K2 are truly interesting for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases and the coronary disease. Through this study, we have proven that the use of vitamin K2 supplements can revert arteriosclerosis”.

Vitamin K and bone health

The most well-known GLA protein is called osteocalcin. This protein needs vitamin K to store calcium in the bones.

If the organism does not have vitamin K, osteocalcin cannot regulate calcium. As a consequence, the calcium from the teeth and bones decreases and they become porous. At the same time, calcium accumulates in the arteries. Vitamin K can revert this process.

Vitamin K is an exceptional nutrient for the correct maintenance of bone health. Those who have a vitamin K deficiency have repeatedly proven that they have a higher risk of suffering fractures.[4] Moreover, those women who have undergone menopause and have started to experience a loss of bone density, vitamin K can contribute to prevent future fractures.

According to research[5], our cells have a tendency for the form of vitamin K, K1, and K2, each one will play different roles on bone health. In the case of K2[6] there are two types that will produce a higher absorption level on behalf of the bone system:

  • MK 4
  • MK 7

In fact, research is moving towards vitamin K2, more specifically on the existing subtypes: vitamin K2 has a compound chemical structure with repeated units called prenyls, which is one of the most common form of K2: 4, 5, 8, or 9 prenyl units, and from them comes their names: MK-4, MK-5, MK-7, MK-8, or MK-9.

The ‘M’ refers to “Menaquinone”, which is the scientific term. While standard human diets normally have around a 10-20% of K2, the proportion of these subtypes can change a lot: fermented foods from soy will have a higher amount of MK-7; cheese MK-8 and MK-9…

In principle, the relation between the benefits for bone health and vitamin K depends on two basic mechanisms:

  • Bone cells called “Osteoclasts”
  • Carboxylation

Osteoclasts are in charge of bone demineralization, which means that they must obtain the minerals that come from the bones to carry them to other systems of the organism and use them for other functions. While said activity is important for health, there is no need to have a high amount of these molecules, or even of their activity, since it can lead to a mineral imbalance. Vitamin K helps the body to maintain this process under control. More specifically, the MK-4 (called menatetrone) avoids the formation of too many osteoclast cells[7] which also causes their death (apoptosis).

The second mechanism involves vitamin K in a process known as “Carboxylation”.[8] This process is directly related to clotting factors that are required for a proper blood coagulation. A protein called “Osteocalcin” that is found in the bones has to be chemically altered during carboxylation for the optimal health of the bones. This protein is related to the measure of Bone Mineral Density (BMD), which is the reason why doctors tend to look at blood tests in order to find parameters to check the health of the bones. When there is a high percentage of osteocalcin proteins in our bone tissue they are carboxylated, which will entail a higher risk of suffering a fracture.

Vitamin K can drastically reduce this situation[9]: so vitamin K is required for the proper activity of the carboxylase enzyme, that allows the carboxylation of osteocalcin proteins in the bone tissue, vitamin K redirects and restructures these proteins to the right place in the bones and, therefore, strengthens their composition.

Some studies[10] have proven that the activity of vitamin K2 (specially MK-4) is specially useful for the post-menopausal bone protection.

Vitamin K2 and osteoporosis

The bones are not dead tissue, rather, they are constantly being regenerated on their inside with a tissue matrix.

If we supply enough vitamin D, calcium, minerals, and vitamin K, the skeleton is progressively replaced with dense and stable bones every 7 to 10 years.

This process is regulated by the osteoblasts (anabolic cells) and osteoclasts (broken down cells). As long as the activity of osteoblasts that form the bones is higher than that of osteoclasts, the maintenance of healthy bones will be guaranteed.

Osteoblasts produce osteocalcin, a protein that depends on vitamin K which binds to calcium in the bone matrix and increases its minerals content. Its task consists on providing stability to the skeleton and resistance to fractures.

The bones become fragile and thin, which increases the risk of suffering fractures. Even if the bone structure looks normal from the outside, they are weak on the inside.

Osteocalcin requires vitamin K. A vitamin K deficiency affects bone density. The degraded cells (osteoclasts) break down more bone tissue than the one that constituent cells (osteoblasts) can form, and they cause a progressive loss of bone.

What is osteoporosis?

From the age of 35 onward, there is a higher activity of osteoclasts that is produced in a natural way. This results in a loss of bone density between a 1 and 1.5% each year. When this breakdown happens really fast, we will be facing osteoporosis.

This happens especially when the nutrients absorption does not work properly. In the case of postmenopausal women, osteoporosis is very common due to the fact that the female hormone called estrogen decreases, and it is the one that helps to store calcium in the bones.[11]

Osteoporosis is also known as “bone loss”, since it is a failure in the skeletal structure. It is a progressive disease because it develops for decades and, in many cases, the first symptom is a fracture.

In 1984, scientists observed that those patients with osteoporotic fractures had a 70% less vitamin K serum when compared to a group with a similar age.

Later studies confirmed that the decrease of density is related to a low vitamin K level.

The statistics have also proven that women with a low vitamin K serum had a 65% increased risk of suffering a hip fracture when compared to those who had higher vitamin K levels.

There are approximately between eight to ten million people that suffer osteoporosis in Germany; seven hundred thousands of people in Austria are affected as well. A third of women suffer from osteoporosis after menopause. In the case of women over the age of 80, the numbers increase to 2/3. Men can also develop osteoporosis, but this disease is three times more common in women.

Osteoporosis is one of the most expensive diseases for the healthcare system, since the treatment of neck fractures requires a longer time at the hospital than heart attacks or strokes.

Around two million women and almost one million men suffer some fracture and, according to new studies, around a hundred a fifty thousand hip fractures happen every year.

The bones need vitamin K2

For decades, calcium and vitamin D3 dietary supplements have been used to strengthen the bones. The skeletal muscle has a higher calcium proportion (around 99%), the teeth only have a little amount, and just a 1% is found in the bloodstream. Our organism needs calcium regularly in order to carry out the regeneration of the skeleton.

Vitamin D3 is considered the vitamin that is needed for the formation of osteocalcin. However, the latest clinical studies have proven that the consumption of calcium and vitamin D3 is not enough to maintain a healthy skeletal structure.

Today, we know that vitamin K2 is as important to develop strong bones as calcium and vitamin D3. Even though vitamin D3 is in charge of the formation of osteocalcin, only vitamin K2 can activate this protein which is in charge of storing calcium in the bones.

When there is a vitamin K2 deficiency, even if there is a proper intake of calcium and vitamin D3, bone density decreases, resulting in osteoporosis.

Studies on osteoporosis have proven that apart from the formation of bones, vitamin K2 also increases their density, stimulates their mineralization (calcium deposition) and it favors the collagen structure, a fibrous grid tissue that contributes to their strength and flexibility, which makes them more resistant to fractures.

Now that we have reached this point, we may ask ourselves: where does calcium go if it is not used for bone formation?

When the vitamin K2 supply is low, the body stores calcium in the arteries walls, which contributes to the development of atherosclerosis at the same time.

In fact, when we face a vitamin K2 deficiency, the body responds with a huge calcium deposition in the arteries walls. This is why many old people have hardened and calcified arteries and fragile bones with a calcium deficiency.

Clinical studies prove the benefits of vitamin K2

In the Osteo clinical study in 2003, it was proven that vitamin K2 prevents bone loss. Two groups of patients were evaluated for three years: the control group was not given supplement, and the second group received synthetic MK-4 therapy. The results clearly show the relation between the consumption of vitamin K2 and bone stability.

A pioneer study shows the correlation between the consumption of natto and a decrease of osteoporosis, which has been previously published by several scientists led by Masao Kaneki. The investigation showed that a higher MK-7 level, as natto, contributes to an improvement of bone health.

Benefits of Vitamin K for active people

There is a direct relation between vitamin K2 and an increase in bone density.

The increase of the absorption of MK-7 as natto resulted in a higher level of activated osteocalcin and a lower risk of fracture. These findings were confirmed in 2006 in a clinical study carried out by Ikeda. Ikeda noticed that consuming natto, which has great quantities of menaquinone 7, can prevent the development of osteoporosis.

The study was carried out for three years, 944 women participated (between 20 and 79 years old), and it proved the relation between MK-7 and the reduction of bone loss.

A recent study by Yaegashi, which was published in the “European Journal of Epidemiology” (2008), showed that a proper vitamin K supply prevents the risk of suffering a hip fracture.

It also showed how magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D are moderately important for bone health, while natural vitamin K2 is a key factor: those participants who were given vitamin K2 had a lower risk of suffering a hip fracture.

This points to how important the task of MK-7 is in the prevention of osteoporosis.

A systematic review of all random and controlled essays in which adults were given vitamin K1 or K2 for at least six months, reveals the following conclusions:

There are 13 studies overall with information about bone loss and another 7 about fractures.

All the studies haven proven that the consumption of vitamin K1 or K2 supplements reduces mineral loss.

In those 7 studies about fractures, it was found out that vitamin K2 is the most effective one. Its intake reduces the risk of vertebral fractures in a 60%, hip fractures in a 77%, and the risk of non-vertebral fractures in an impressive 81%.

Better safe than sorry

Osteoporosis develops slowly, which is why it is so difficult to make an early diagnosis. Moreover, measuring bone density is not often the clearest way to find out.

Most of the times, osteoporosis produces symptoms like itchiness, tense bones, or back pain. It can also produce a sudden fracture, a vertebral fracture, or a femoral neck fracture.

Unfortunately, the research that is carried out by the pharmaceutic industry is exclusively focused on producing medicines that are meant for old people, when the risk of suffering a fracture is already too high. However, these medicines are not capable of stopping a process that has been going on for decades, and they can only slightly delay it.

Dietary supplements approach this problem from a different perspective. They are much cheaper and they also do not have any side effects.

Anyone who wants to prevent osteoporosis should start taking vitamin K2 supplements from the age of 40 and maintain this supply at least for 20 or 30 years until the age of 60. With this, they will obtain more benefits than with pharmacological treatments.

If you want even more effective dietary supplements, you can combine them with other nutrients apart from vitamin K2, like calcium, vitamin D3, magnesium, copper, selenium, zinc, manganese, boron, vitamin B, and vitamin C. This is a complete formula to prevent osteoporosis.

The excessive consumption of coffee and carbonated drinks with high levels of phosphorus should be avoided, since they reduce the absorption of calcium. Smoking also increases the risk of suffering osteoporosis.

The studies have also proven that bone density is stronger in those who do 40 minutes of moderate physical exercise three times a week.

It is also advisable to sunbathe for 30 minutes a day, since this stimulates the production of vitamin D3 in the skin.

The benefits of vitamin K2 for the cardiovascular system

A study carried out on postmenopausal women has shown how taking vitamin K2 for long periods of time can inhibit the development and progression of age-related arteriosclerosis.

Moreover, a study published in the journal “Thrombosis and Haemostasis”.[12] has proven that consuming 180mcg of vitamin K2 daily for three years improves vascular elasticity.

“The use of vitamin K2 dietary supplements by women statistically resulted in a significant improvement of vascular elasticity”. Dr. Cees Vermeer, who is the head of the study carried out in the University of Maastritcht (Netherlands) and a renowned vitamin K2 researcher stated:

“Our data show that the additional intake of vitamin K2 has positive effects for the cardiovascular system”.

Details of the study: vitamin K2 dietary supplements improve the arterial function in healthy women

The study titled “Menaquinone-7 supplementation improve arterial rigidity in healthy postmenopausal women” is highly important.

Dr. Vermeer stated “This is the first study that proves how consuming vitamin K2 as MK-7 has a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system in the long term. Previous studies that have been carried out on the population have proven the direct relation between the consumption of vitamin K2 and a lower risk of suffering a cardiovascular disease, but this is the first practical study that focuses on the benefits of vitamin K2 for cardiovascular health.

Dr. Vermeer and his team analyzed 244 healthy postmenopausal women between 55 and 65 years old and randomly prescribed a daily amount of vitamin K2 (180mcg of natural vitamin K2 daily) for three years, either as a dietary supplement or as a placebo.[13]

Vitamin K for menopausal women

The effects were measured by using the heartbeat speed and ultrasound techniques.

The data of the 227 women that completed the study showed that the consumption of MK-/ produces a significant decrease of the heartbeat speed and a decrease of arteriosclerosis.

They also observed a positive effect regarding the elasticity of the carotid artery in those women who had a higher vascular hardening at the beginning of the study.

The results not only confirmed that vitamin K2 does not only inhibit age-related arteriosclerosis, but it it also produces a remarkable improvement of vascular elasticity.

The researchers examined the values of dephosphorylated protein, matrix nichtcarboxyliertem Gla (dp-ucMGP), and found a risk factor for atherosclerosis.[14]

The consumption of MK-7 for three years produced a decrease of a 50% of the dp-ucMGP protein, when compared to the placebo. This effect was observed on the first year of the study and it was prolonged to the two following years.

Benefits of vitamin K2 for the heart and bones

In 2013, the journal “Osteoporosis International” published a study that showed the positive effects of MK-7 for the bones.

This study, along with the one previously mentioned, is highly important, since it has been carried out for three years, testing the results in the long term and closely following the change that vitamin K2 produces on health.

The conclusions of this study have been accepted by prestigious medicine journals that have acknowledge the benefits of vitamin K2 on the bones and cardiovascular system.

Vitamin K2 makes sure that calcium binds to a mineral matrix so that it is not deposited in the blood vessels”, explained Dr. Dennis Goodman, who is an expert on cardiology and head of internal medicine in the Langone Medical Center, New York. This is important, because when calcium is deposited in the arteries it produces atherosclerosis and obstructions, which can cause serious cardiovascular diseases, like a heart attack or stroke.

According to Dr. Goodman, who is currently working on a new book about the role of vitamin K2 in health, there is a direct relation between the blood vessels flexibility and the longevity of human beings. According to the information published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Rosenhek, 2000), arteriosclerosis reduces the biological age of a person up to 10 years.

Another study that was published in the journal “La aterosclerosis” (Shaw, n 188, 206) shows how the biological age of the person can vary 10 years according to the progress of age-related atherosclerosis.

This study about vitamin K2 clearly shows how the arterial function can drastically change the way we approach the prevention of the health of the cardiovascular system.

The benefits of vitamin K2 in newborns, children, and adolescents

Childhood and adolescence is the time when the bones grow more. Bone mass reaches its peak approximately at the age of 30 to 35. From the on, the minerals start to slowly decrease with the aging process.

Therefore, the sooner we act, the easier it will be to obtain bone mass. The objective is to bind calcium to a healthy matrix and increase the mineral concentration in the bone to maintain a healthy matrix for longer so that it reaches old age in a better state.

However, if there is not enough vitamin K nor osteocalcium, calcium cannot produce healthy and strong bones.

Clinical studies have proven that the best state of vitamin K (or high vitamin K levels in blood serum) coincides with the development of strong and healthy bones in children.

Young bones remain active and their osteocalcin content is 8-10 times higher than in adults. Therefore, they have a higher demand of vitamin K. However, recent research has proven that most of the children suffer a vitamin K deficiency.

The average intake of vitamin K has considerably decreased in the last years and nowadays, we do not consume the necessary amount of vitamin K to maintain an optimal development of bone mass.

This deficiency is due to the excessive consumption of processed food and the lack of vegetable and food rich in vitamin K from our diet.

The experts advise to consume food that is rich in vitamin K, or using vitamin K2 supplementation for children.

Vitamin K2 and the health of our children

A diet that lacks vital nutrients in childhood can seriously affect the development of the skeleton and cardiovascular health of children.

A lack of vitamin K2 also produces an inadequate nutrition. Clinical studies have proven that vitamin K2 protects from bone loss, and stimulates its density and strength, and protects from arteriosclerosis.

The bones develop during childhood

A child’s diet should be rich in calcium, which is why it is advisable to consume a lot of milk. But in order to bind calcium to the bones, the organism also needs enough vitamin K reserves.

Vitamin K, specially vitamin K2, is the key factor to store calcium along with vitamin D. A healthy bone matrix and an optimal mineral density can only be achieved through its supply.

After childhood, vitamin K2 is in charge of maintaining mineral density in the bones and of preventing its deterioration. If we do not have enough vitamin K, the growth and bone density are going to be compromised.

Moreover, vitamin K2 prevents the accumulation of absorbed calcium in the arteries. A vitamin K deficiency can trigger the calcification of the arteries during childhood.

The ability of vitamin K2 to avoid the accumulation of calcium in the arteries favors the health of the heart in the long term, which is why the body needs to have enough vitamin K available.

Vitamin K in newborns

As it was previously mentioned, vitamin K is renowned for its properties for blood coagulation. In certain situations, the term “coagulate” can be negatively associated to processes like brain stokes, obstructed arteries… However, it is far from what this essential vitamin can offer. It is so important that newborns are given a vitamin K injection when the mother gives birth in order to avoid the “Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn” (HDN). This disease involves a deficit of coagulation factors because newborns have low levels of this vitamin in their organism. Vitamin K does not go through the placenta during their development, and their intestine lacks the bacteria that synthesizes vitamin K after being born.

After birth, there is little vitamin K in breast milk and breastfeeding babies can lack vitamin K for several weeks until the intestinal bacteria start to synthesize it.

Some babies with low vitamin K levels can bleed, sometimes in the brain, which causes significant brain damage. This is known as the “Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn” (HDN).

Vitamin K2 is essential for children and adolescents

The function of vitamin K2 consists on activating certain proteins in the body. Among these we can find osteocalcin in the bones, the matrix gla protein (MGP) in the arteries, and coagulation in the liver.

Osteocalcin is in charge of binding calcium to the bone matrix. Without an adequate vitamin K2 consumption, an important part of osteocalcin remains inactive and, therefore, it cannot bind to calcium.

At the same time, the matrix gla protein (MGP) prevents calcium from wandering freely and adhering to the arteries when there is vitamin K2 available in the body.

If the organism lacks the adequate vitamin K2 form (Menaquinone-7, MK-7) calcium cannot be properly processed in order to build healthy and strong bones.

Children need more vitamin K2 so that their bones grow healthy and strong. Unfortunately, many children have a vitamin K2 deficiency. In these cases, vitamin K2 nutritional supplements can help to fix this deficiency.

Clinical studies have proven how the organism needs to have enough vitamin K2 available

Clinical studies have confirmed that there is a direct link between the intake of vitamin K2 and the development of healthy and strong bones in children.

A study that was published in 2008 proved that increasing the consumption of vitamin K2 in children over two years of age provided them with stronger and thicker bones.

One year later, the same research group published another study in which it was proven how a little amount of vitamin K2 supplement as MK-7 in healthy prepubescent children increased the carboxylation of osteocalcin (activation of osteocalcin).

A new study was carried out in 2013 on 896 blood samples from 110 healthy volunteers (42 children and 68 adults). The aim was to analyze the biomarkers that reflected the state of vitamin K2 in the participants. Both the inactive MGP and inactive osteocalcin were measured, since they are crucial proteins for the health of the heart and bones.

The researchers found that those children and adults who presented a higher vitamin K2 deficiency had a better response to an additional intake of vitamin K2.

Those children and adults over the age of 40 showed a higher vitamin K2 deficiency. Consequently, they are the ones who need to use vitamin K2 supplementation as MK-7 in order to fix this deficiency.

Based on these conclusions, more and more doctors and nutrition experts recommend using vitamin K2 dietary supplements for children. The supply of this important vitamin is necessary, even during the growth phase.

Vitamin K reduces the risk of suffering diabetes

A study carried out in the Netherlands showed how vitamin K1 and K2 help to reduce type 2 diabetes. The study was published online on the 27th of April of 2010 in the journal “Diabetes Care”.

Researchers from the University Medical Centre from Utrecht analyzed the data of 38 094 participants that had between 20 and 70 years of age at the beginning of the study.

The questions regarding nutrition were analyzed about the intake of phylloquinone (vitamin K1) and menaquinone (vitamin K2). The result was:

The participants consumed an average of 200mcg of vitamin K1 daily, and an average of 31mcg of vitamin K2 daily.

918 cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed during an observation period of 10.3 years.

A detailed analysis of the data revealed that men and women who had consumed a 25% more vitamin K1 experienced a lower risk of developing diabetes in a 19% when compared to those whose vitamin K1 intake was lower.

In the case of vitamin K2, they observed a decrease of a 7% per each 10mcg increase in the consumption of vitamin K2.

The increase of the vitamin K2 intake was also associated to an improvement of the lipids in the blood and lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is an inflammation marker.

This study is the first one where the relation between type 2 diabetes and the consumption of vitamin K were examined together. Their authors reached the conclusion that vitamin K affects the risk of developing diabetes through the calcium metabolism.

On the other hand, the decrease of inflammation due to the increase of the consumption of vitamin K can also improve insulin sensitivity and a decrease of the risk of diabetes, as it has been observed in the results of in vitro studies.

The researchers have stated:

The results of this study have proven that both the intake of vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 reduce the risk of suffering type 2 diabetes.

Vitamin K2 and blood coagulation

One of the outstanding benefits of vitamin K2 is its ability to activate several clotting proteins in the liver. Even if there is a vitamin K excess, the activation would not increase beyond its optimal limit.

Doctor Cees Vermeer from the University of Maastricht, compares this with the necessary consumption of vitamin C in order to produce collagen. If we consume a lot vitamin C we will never suffer from a collagen excess. Therefore, an additional vitamin K consumption will never produce an increase of blood coagulation because when we deal with a natural nutrient the process is self-regulated.

Recent studies have proven that the daily consumption of 45mcg of natural vitamin K2 does not alter the effects of anti-clotting medicine. Therefore, natural vitamin K2 never involves a risk of clot formation in the blood vessels.

However, those who consume anti-clotting medicines such as coumadin or warfarin, you have to consult your doctor before taking vitamin K2 supplements in order to check the treatment.

Vitamin K is necessary to produce blood clots that will stop hemorrhages that can end up having serious consequences. You need this vitamin even to stop a simple cut in a finger. Even so, the coagulation process is quite complex, and to carry it out you need around 12 types of proteins that will be functionally used before the final stage of this process. Four of this coagulation protein factors need vitamin K for their specific task.

The ability of the body to control the blood flow after a vascular accident is absolutely essential for survival. In order to solve this, a process called “Hemostasis” takes place, which consists on a coagulation process and the subsequent dissolution of said clot and, finally, the repair of damaged tissue.

In this regard, vitamin K is crucial to successfully carry out the coagulation process:

  • The clotting factors are proteins in the blood that control the bleeding. When a blood vessel is injured, its walls constrict to limit the blood to the damaged area. Then, the platelets adhere to the place that has been injured and expand through the surface of the blood vessel in order to stop the bleeding.
  • In this moment, the little bags inside the platelets release chemical signals that attract other cells to this area in order to create a group called a platelet plug.
  • There are different clotting factors on the surface of these active platelets that work and cooperate in a series of complex chemical reactions (called a coagulation cascade) in order to form a fibrin clot. This acts as a grid to stop the bleeding.
  • The clotting factors are found in the blood in their inactive form. When a blood vessel is injured, the coagulation cascade takes place, and each clotting factor is activated on a specific order to form a blood clot.

The side effects of vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 is not a medicine, rather, it is a natural supplement, which means that it does not have any type of side effects.

Vitamin K does not produce an excessive coagulation of the blood, since the proteins that are in charge of coagulation have a limited capacity to absorb vitamin K. Once the organism is saturated, vitamin K cannot longer affect this process.

Types of Vitamin K

There are 3 types of vitamin K:

  • Vitamin K1 or Phylloquinone
  • Vitamin K2 or Menaquinone
  • Vitamin K3 or Menadione

K1 is found in plants and green vegetables, and they are specially rich since they precisely need K1 in order to carry out the photosynthesis. K2 is produced from K1 and K3 through a type of bacteria and micro-organisms. It can be synthesized in our body through a conversion process that involves K1 and K3 vitamins.

Combine Vitamin K and Vitamin D

We cannot find the K2 preform in the vegetable kingdom, unless the plants have been fermented or transformed by a bacteria. For example: Bacillus natto. This bacteria can transform K1 into K2 and it is frequently used to produce soy ferments. The word “Natto” is widely used in dietary supplementation.

  • Vitamin K1 is approximately a 90% of the vitamin K consumption in a typical western diet.
  • Vitamin K2 is approximately a 10% of the vitamin K consumption in a typical western diet.

Menaquinone (as MK-n, the “n” represents the number of side chains in the prenyl) is also absorbed through the diet. Meat has MK-4, fermented products like cheese and natto have MK-7, MK-8, and MK-9.

What is the best vitamin K2 form?

Natural vitamin K2, Menaquinone-7 (MK-7), is obtained through fermentation with natto, MK-7 is the best effective vitamin K2 form, since it has the highest bioavailability and bioactivity, which makes perfect vitamin K2 supplements.

Benefits of natural vitamin K2:

  • Natural Vitamin K2 activates all the proteins that depend on vitamin K, which allows the body to use calcium in order to develop healthy and strong bones while avoiding the storage of calcium in the arteries, which results in arteriosclerosis.
  • Natural vitamin K2 has a significantly higher bioavailability and bioactivity than other vitamin K forms. Viták scientists from the University of Maastricht have studied vitamin K for more than 30 years, and they have reached the conclusion that MK-7 (natural vitamin K2) is superior to other vitamin K forms, both in its absorption as well as in the duration of its benefits.
  • Natural vitamin K2 is optimally absorbed by the body and quickly reaches a high concentration in the blood. The body needs lower amounts of menaquinone (high bioavailability) in order to satisfy its needs. The experts advise to consume at least 45mcg daily in order to prevent and maintain bone health and the cardiovascular system.
  • Natural vitamin K2 also activates other tissues, apart from the liver, like the bones, arteries, and other soft tissues.
  • Natural vitamin K2 is still the one that remains a longer period of time in the blood. Its bioactivity lasts 72 hours, which means that it will be available for all the tissues that may need it.
  • Natural vitamin K2 has no side effects.
  • Natural vitamin K2 does not produce a “blood thickening” or “hyper-coagulation” in healthy people.

Natural or synthetic vitamin K2, which one is better?

Vitamin K2 has two forms: synthetic vitamin K2 (MK-4) and natural vitamin K2 (MK-7)

Clinical studies have proven that synthetic vitamin K2 cannot be found in the blood after 8 hours. Therefore, it is necessary to do several high servings in order to maintain a high level of vitamin K in the blood.

On the contrary, natural vitamin K2 has a high bioavailability and bioactivity level, which means that the amount that has to be used is much lower and it also does not alter the anti-coagulant effects.

Natural vitamin K2 has an average lifespan of 3 days, and it supplies vitamin K2 to all the tissues during 24 hours.

Foods with vitamin K

Some of the richest foods in vitamin K are: kale, spinach, mustard leaves, beetroot leaves, cabbage, turnip leaves, chard, parsley, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, raisins…

Vitamin K contributes to the maintenance of a healthy intestine. The amount of vitamin K that is needed is very low and we can obtain it through the diet.

However, it is quite evident that western population does not consume enough vitamin K through the diet.

The main types of vitamin K are K1 (phylloquinone) and K2 (menaquinone).

Vitamin K1

Vitamin K1 is found in green leaf vegetables, such as spinach, sprouts, and broccoli. However, the absorbs very little vitamin K1.

Moreover, the liver processes most of the K1 for blood coagulation, leaving even less for the rest of tissues. This would explain why vitamin K1 has such a low effect on the health of the cardiovascular system and bones.

Even though vitamin K1 is also very important, we must be aware that it has less bioactivity, which means that its effects on health are lower than vitamin K2.

Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 is mainly found in foods of animal origin, like meat, guts, egg yolk, quark, and some types of cheese that undergo a bacterial maturation process. Those foods that have vitamin K2 can be cooked or boiled before consuming them without losing any vitamin, since vitamin K2 is heat-resistant.

However, these foods have very low vitamin K2 concentrations, which means that we would have to eat great amounts of them in order to absorb enough vitamin K2.

The best source of natural vitamin K2 is the traditional Japanese dish natto, which is made of fermented soy. Natto has an exceptionally high concentration of natural K2 as long chain Menaquinone-7 (MK-7). Natto has been traditionally consumed in Japan with rice for breakfast. Unfortunately, its intense scent which is similar to cured cheese, is not attractive and appetizing for the western world.

Natural vitamin K2 is the most effective vitamin K form. Its bioavailability and duration is superior to other vitamin K forms.

Vitamin K2 is optimally absorbed by the organism, which is why it enters the bloodstream and it is immediately ready to be used after its consumption.

It is necessary to take enough vitamin K2 in order to activate Gla proteins in the body and to protect the heart and bones. When there is not enough vitamin K2 through the diet, we have to consume vitamin K2 through dietary supplements.

How and when should we consume vitamin K?

Vitamin K has a wide range of forms, and each one of them will have a specific use, apart from limits when it comes to their consumption:

  • Vitamin K1: 50 – 1000mcg daily
  • Vitamin K1 (topical administration): 5%
  • Vitamin K2 (MK-4): 1,5mg – 45mg daily
  • Vitamin K2 (MK-7, MK-8 y MK-9): 90 – 360mcg daily

It is advisable to consume it with a meal since it is a fat-soluble vitamin.

How can we combine vitamin K?

The benefits of vitamin K, as we have seen, are closely related to improving the body’s ability to carry out blood coagulation, as well as an optimal maintenance of the bone system. We may combine other dietary supplements for the latter in order to improve the use of vitamin K.

Vitamin K and Vitamin D supplementation

In this way, it is advisable to carry out the nutritional supplements “stack” in order to enhance the benefits of vitamin K, which are mostly related to improving the maintenance of bone health:

  • Vitamin D3: Improves calcium absorption, increases mineral bone density and strengthens the bones; the daily amount will be between 2000 – 10000 IU.
  • Magnesium: among its properties, it can support the bones; the daily amount will be between 200 – 400mg, counting the rest of sources
  • Calcium: this minerals has properties to strengthen and support the whole bone system; the daily amount is 500mg approximately, counting the rest of sources

What do the experts think about vitamin K

The experts from the University of Maastricht have underlined the importance of consuming vitamin K2. It is advisable to always choose a natural vitamin K2, since it is completely absorbed and processed by the body.

According to their opinion, our organism needs a daily amount of 45 mcg of vitamin K2.

Those who consume vitamin D need to increase the vitamin K2 supply. Natural vitamin K2 is available in high quality nutritional supplements.

Studies and references about vitamin K2

  • 1. JM, Vermeer C, Grobbee DE, Schurgers LJ, Knapen MH, van der Meer IM, Hofman A, Witteman JC. La ingesta dietética de  menaquinona asociada con la reducción del riesgo de sufrir enfermedad coronaria: el estudio de Rotterdam. J Nutr. 2004 Nov; 134 (11): 3100-5.
  • 2. Pandeo JW, Motores de búsqueda ML, Atsma M, Bartelink ML, Prokop M, Geleijnse JM, Witteman JC, Grobbee DE, van der Schouw YT. La ingesta elevada de menaquinona en la dieta asociada a una reducción de la calcificación coronaria. Aterosclerosis. 2009 de abril; 203 (2): 489-93. doi: 10.1016 / j.atherosclerosis.2008.07.010. Epub 2008 Jul 19.
  • 3. Schurgers LJ, y col. Regresión de la elastocalcinosis medial inducida por warfarina y un alto consumo de vitamina K en ratones. La sangre. 2007 1 de abril; 109 (7): 2823-31.
  • 4. Cockayne S, Adamson J, Lanham-New S, Shearer MJ, Gilbody S, Torgerson DJ. Vitamin K and the prevention of fractures: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Intern Med. 2006 Jun 26;166(12):1256-61.
  • 5. Zittermann A. Effects of vitamin K on calcium and bone metabolism. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2001 Nov;4(6):483-7.
  • 6. Katarzyna Maresz. Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2015 Feb; 14(1): 34–39.
  • 7. Y Takeuchi et al.  Bone 27 (6), 769-776. 12 2000. Vitamin K(2) Inhibits Adipogenesis, Osteoclastogenesis, and ODF/RANK Ligand Expression in Murine Bone Marrow Cell Cultures.
  • 8. Berkner KL. Vitamin K-dependent carboxylation. Vitam Horm. 2008;78:131-56. doi: 10.1016/S0083-6729(07)00007-6.
  • 9. Sugiyama T, Kawai S. Carboxylation of osteocalcin may be related to bone quality: a possible mechanism of bone fracture prevention by vitamin K. J Bone Miner Metab. 2001;19(3):146-9.
  • 10. Koitaya N, Sekiguchi M, Tousen Y, Nishide Y, Morita A, Yamauchi J, Gando Y, Miyachi M, Aoki M, Komatsu M, Watanabe F, Morishita K, Ishimi Y. Low-dose vitamin K2 (MK-4) supplementation for 12 months improves bone metabolism and prevents forearm bone loss in postmenopausal Japanese women. J Bone Miner Metab. 2014 Mar;32(2):142-50. doi: 10.1007/s00774-013-0472-7. Epub 2013 May 24.
  • 11. Booth et al. Associations between Vitamin K Biochemical Measures and Bone Mineral Density in Men and Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, volumen 89, edición 10, 1 de octubre de 2004, páginas 4904-4909.
  • 12. Knapen MH, Drummen NE, Smit E, Vermeer C, Theu Knowledge E. Three-year low-dose menaquinone-7 supplementation helps decrease bone loss in healthy postmenopausal women.Osteoporos Int. 2013 Sep; 24 (9): 2499-507. doi: 10.1007 / s00198-013-2325-6. Epub 2013 23 de marzo.
  • 13. Invitado GC, et al. A high menaquinone intake reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2009 Sep; 19 (7): 504-10. doi: 10.1016 / j.numecd.2008.10.004. Epub 2009 28 de enero.
  • 14. Schurgers LJ, Cranenburg EC, Vermeer C. y col. A high menaquinone intake reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease. Thromb Haemost. 2008 Oct; 100 (4): 593-603.

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Melanie Ramos
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