Most people have heard of Vitamin K. However, few people realize that Vitamin K is actually a group of fat-soluble vitamins called naphthoquinones.
These naphthoquinones are divided into three groups and known affectionately as K1, K2 and K3.
K1 and K3
Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) generally comes from plants and is highest in dark leafy green veggies (kale, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and avocado). Vitamin K1 plays a primary role in blood coagulation
Vitamin K3 (menadione) is a synthetic version of the vitamin and is generally considered unsafe and unnecessary for general use.
Menaquinone (the scientific name for those that, like me, geek-out on this stuff) has received a lot of press in the medical world recently as it has been discovered to be tightly tied to things like bone health and arterial plaque.
K2 is in part the product of a fermentation process carried out by our intestinal bacteria (one of the reasons probiotic foods and supplements are so important) when we eat dark leafy greens. This is due to a natural conversion of K1 to K2 by the body. However, this process only happens at a rate of 10:1 and since most folks don’t eat enough of the green leafy foods we are left with a big K2 deficiency in Canada.
There are other trace sources of K2 like meats and dairy products (particularly grass-fed pasture-raised animals – especially butter and organ meats). However, they pale in comparison to the much touted mega-source of K2 called natto, which is a traditional fermented Japanese dish consisting of sticky soy beans that offers a powerful nutritional punch but a rather limited flavor appeal to those born outside Japan.
Natto is commonly eaten at breakfast in Japan. In contrast we eat sugar laden breakfast foods and we wonder why they are healthier (and don’t even get me started on their high levels of omega-3 consumption, veggie intake and almost wheat-free diet).
The recent body of research on Vitamin K2 underscores the idea that K1 and K2 should be appreciated as separate nutrients with distinct physiological actions and benefits. As I mentioned before, K1 is known for its key role in directing blood clotting in the body and has also shown anti-inflammatory properties.
K2 on the other hand appears to be especially key in maintaining bone mineralization and limiting the formation and lifespan of osteoclasts, which are cells that break down bone. Researchers are increasingly optimistic about K2′s potential for those with or at risk for osteoporosis.
Again I look to the Japanese who have some of the lowest rates of osteoporosis in the world despite consuming less calcium than those of us here in the West.
One of the problems with heart disease in that free calcium attaches to plaque in the arteries (arterial calcification) making it almost impossible to get rid of. Actually there is compelling evidence that suggests that large supplemental calcium intake is associated with an increase in heart disease.
What if I told you that Vitamin K2′s ability to assist in bone formation helps reduce your chances of heart disease? Well it does!
Vitamin K2 tells the free calcium in the body to go to the bone for storage right? There is a growing understanding that shows that K2 may aid cardiovascular health by helping to prevent, and actually even reverse arterial calcification, which is a known contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Thanks to K2 the free calcium now gets stored in bone instead of causing arterial calcification. And that is good news!
But wait there’s more!
It has long been recognized that Japanese woman have skin that ages very gracefully.
Is it genetics? Maybe.
There is new research (originally presented in Boston by the Endocrine Society in 2011) to suggest that adequate dietary vitamin K2 prevents calcification of our skin’s elastin, which is a protein that gives skin the ability to spring back. This smooths out lines and helps to stop wrinkles.
As it turns out Vitamin K2 is necessary for activation of matrix proteins that act to inhibit calcium from being deposited in elastin fibers of our skin. This inhibition keeps these fibers from hardening and causing wrinkles.
On top of all that Vitamin K2 is also necessary for the proper functioning of vitamin A- and D- dependent proteins.
I am so impressed K2 that I am now taking a Vitamin K2 supplement. If you live in Woodstock you can purchase it at the “InsideU” health food store which is located at 682 Peel St (to shop online click here).
You can get K2 supplementally in capsule form and it is fairly inexpensive.
If you are looking for a supplement that will target bone health, heart health and skin health all at the same time – then K2 is for you!
I am also planning to make my own natto since it is hard to find outside of Japan. I plan on getting a natto starter kit and fermenting some at home. Yum!
For the maximum Vitamin K2 experience you need to eat your green leafies, and eat natto. If you can’t find, or make, natto then you might what to consider supplementing since it is inexpensive.
Until next time – Eat Healthy. Train Hard. And Smile
[appeared in the Oxford Review April 18th, 2013]Read More →