I’m sure you’ve heard of vitamin K and its role in blood clotting but did you know that this vitamin exists in two forms namely vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) and vitamin K2 (a group of compounds known as menaquinones)?
So what you may wonder. Well, vitamin K1 deficiency is rare and practically nonexistent, unlike vitamin K2 deficiency.
Unfortunately, although vitamin K2 could be the ‘missing link’ between diet and numerous fatal health conditions, it hasn’t been much in the spotlight. In this article, we’ll unravel everything you need to know about this little-known nutrient.
Top 5 health benefits of vitamin K2
1. Vitamin K2 may reduce risks of osteoporosis.
Let me ask you something: if you wanted to optimize your bone health, what would you do? Ensure that you’re getting enough dietary calcium, vitamin D and magnesium while doing some weight-bearing exercises?
That’s great; but you’d also have to add vitamin K2 (and intestinal health optimization) to that list.
You see, this fat-soluble vitamin is necessary to activate osteocalcin, a protein secreted by osteoblasts the body’s bone-building cells. Once activated, osteocalcin can pull calcium into the bones where the osteoblasts then incorporate it into the bone structure. This process ameliorates bone architecture; increases bone mass and strength while improving the bone’s collagen structure (cross-linking of fibrous tissue) to promote the formation of tough but supple bone which is less vulnerable to fractures. That’s not all; together with vitamin D3, vitamin K2 can help prevent bone loss.
In a 3-year study, post-menopausal women taking vitamin K2 supplements experienced a much slower decline in bone mineral density.
Scientists have also discovered that women living in western Japan (where the diet is lower in vitamin K2) had a significantly higher risk of hip fractures compared to those living in Tokyo where vitamin K2 rich foods are regularly consumed.
2. Vitamin K2 could keep cardiovascular diseases at bay.
New evidence has confirmed that vitamin K2 can offer protection against heart disease via the different mechanisms described below.
Did you know that about 20% of atherosclerotic plaques (from the early to the more advanced stages of heart disease) are made up of calcium?
Calcification of the arteries is a massive risk factor for heart disease and that’s where vitamin K2 comes in. By regulating calcium metabolism, vitamin K2 ensures that calcium gets deposited in the bones and teeth where it belongs and out of soft tissues like the arteries and veins where it can cause tremendous damage. Vitamin K2 also ensures that the arteries remain elastic and flexible and thus allows blood to flow easily through the body.
Vitamin K2 also tones down inflammation while preventing accumulation of lipids and white blood cells in the arteries. In other words, this vitamin can help keep heart disease at bay by reducing the risk of plaque formation which marks the debut of atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries).
Another mechanism by which vitamin K2 can protect you against heart disease is through the activation of Matrix GLA Protein (MGP), a protein which is in charge of protecting arteries and veins against calcification.
Damage to your blood vessels – this can be caused by a diet high in sugar or an unhealthy lifestyle amongst other things – elicits an inflammatory response which can cause calcium to deposit in the damaged tissue. This plaque buildup is the underlying mechanism that can lead you down the road to a heart attack.
However, if your intake of vitamin K2 and D is sufficient, these two nutrients will work together to increase MGP which will then inhibit calcium from being deposited in your soft tissues.
How can you predict your risk of heart disease?
One of the things you could do is to determine your calcium score test – this test measures the calcification of arteries and provides a much more accurate prediction of your future risk of heart disease than your cholesterol levels.
If your calcium score is high, taking therapeutic doses of vitamin K2 (under the supervision of your health care provider) while improving your diet and exercising more can help reduce your calcium score.
In the Rotterdam Study, scientists investigated the vitamin K2 intake of more than 4,800 men who were over 55 and thus constituted a high-risk age group for heart disease. The subjects were divided into three groups based on their vitamin K2 intake. Those with the highest intake of dietary vitamin K2 per day (33 micrograms) had a 52% lower risk of severe calcification of the aorta, a 41% reduced risk of coronary heart disease and a 51% lower risk of death due to heart disease. This group also showed a 26% lower risk of death due to any causes.
What’s really interesting is that although the study participants consumed, on average, 10 times more dietary vitamin K1 than vitamin K2, the researchers didn’t find any relationship between vitamin K1 intake and the risk markers described. In other words, simply consuming lots of vitamin K1 will not provide you with the same health benefits as dietary vitamin K2.
3. Vitamin K2 may enhance dental health.
You’re most likely aware that diet leaves a colossal footprint on teeth structure. Or that well-formed teeth are more resistant to decay.
‘How does that help me? I’m a grown up with already formed teeth…’ you’re probably muttering to yourself.
Well, let me tell you something: your teeth can heal themselves if the right nutrients and conditions are present. Although more research is warranted, current evidence suggests that vitamin K2 could help prevent and even reverse tooth decay in various ways as explained below.
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