Why do we lose calcium from our bones and deposit it in our arteries, kidneys and other places it doesn't belong as we age? Read on.
Osteopenia, mild bone loss, and osteoporosis, significant bone loss, are common in both men and women. An all too common scenario is an elderly person falls, breaks a hip, goes to the hospital, and gets pneumonia or a hospital-based infection and dies. Another all too common scenario is calcium builds up in the coronary arteries or carotid arteries, form a blockage, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
Both of these degenerative diseases have multiple but similar factors, but a very important one they have in common is a deficiency of vitamin K2, as well as deficiencies in two other fat soluble vitamins, D and A.
There are two major forms of vitamin K, known as K1 and K2. Vitamin K1, we've known about for some time for its role in blood coagulation. In fact, the K comes from the German word koagulation. Vitamin K1, found mostly in green leafy plants is used in our liver to regulate blood coagulation. Patients who take Coumadin as a blood thinner are cautioned not to eat many green vegetables which contain vitamin K1. Coumadin destroys vitamin K1, that's how it works. While this drug can save lives by preventing blood clots from forming, it deprives the body of a very beneficial nutrient. Vitamin K1 also helps to activate osteocalcin, needed to absorb calcium into bones and teeth. If we have a healthy population of gut organisms, we can convert some K1 into K2.
While Vitamin K2 activates osteocalcin, it also activates a protein called MGP, present in our arteries, veins and other soft issues, that when activated by K2 prevents calcium deposition in these tissues. In Dutch studies, dietary vitamin K2 significantly lowers coronary calcification, heart disease and overall mortality. Vitamin K1 had no effect.
So why are we deficient in vitamin K2 and what foods contain it?
K2 is present in all the foods we were told not to eat because they contain saturated fat and cholesterol, like eggs yolks, liver, butter, cheese, meats and poultry, all much higher in K2 when pasture fed.
Large scale meta-analyses have concluded that natural fats, including saturated fat, do not cause disease. Decades of bad advice to eat low fat and avoid saturated fat turned many of us to high carb diets, with the resulting problems of epidemic obesity, diabetes and Alzheimers. Along with throwing out the fats we also threw out the fat soluble vitamins like K2, D and A. It turns out that these babies we threw out with the bathwater have everything to do with our ability to absorb and utilize minerals, especially how and where calcium is distributed in the body.
Most of what we know about vitamin D we've learned in the past 15 years. We are just scratching the surface in our knowledge of vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 is formed through fermentation of K1, either in the stomachs of animals that eat K1, like cows, or fermentation of vegetables. Kim chee and sauerkraut have small amounts of K2. Natto, a fermented soybean product, contains high amounts of vitamin K2. Most westerners won't eat natto, also known as “stinky tofu”. No other soy products contain K2.
Of the food sources for vitamin K1, kale is one of the highest. Olive oil, while not high in K1, is another source that many people use. Our bodies put a high priority on making sure that blood clotting stays in the normal range. As health declines, from improper diet and lifestyle choices, some people develop hypercoagulability — blood that is too thick. There are multiple causes for this, most commonly not enough water. But for some people not enough K1 containing vegetables may be a factor as well.
The science on vitamin K2 is not yet clear enough to make recommendations on dosing for various health conditions. We sell a 90 mcg capsule, and I typically recommend 180 to 270 mcg for bone loss, depending on bodyweight, and 270 mcg for arterial calcification. Forty-five mcg to 90 mcg is probably a good maintenance dose. The Vitamin D Supreme by Designs for Health that we carry has 50 mcg Of K2, 500 mcg of K1 and 5,000 IU of vitamin D. If you take any calcium or vitamin D, it is essential that you take vitamin K2. Vitamin D increases the need for K2. Taking D, K2 and A together improves the benefits of each.
Just a reminder, there is no vitamin A in plant foods. Beta carotene is not vitamin A and conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A is not very efficient. No matter how much beta carotene you take, it typically will not raise blood levels of vitamin A. Infants, children, the elderly and people on low fat diets, or with liver or kidney compromise may not be able to make any vitamin A from beta carotene.
The combination of vitamins K2, D and A taken regularly will slow or postpone many diseases of aging, in fact these three essential nutrients should be the core of any anti-aging program. What else is K2 good for? In addition to bone and arterial health, K2 can be helpful for:
- brain health
- varicose veins
- kidney disease
- fertility and ease of labor
- tooth health
Vitamin K2 is also involved in the synthesis of glucosamine and glycosaminoglycans — important components in tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin and the lining of the intestinal tract. Lack of vitamin K2 can contribute to joint problems, calcification of elastin fibers causes wrinkles and thinning of the skin and leaky gut.
K2 deficiencies can also cause increased insulin resistance, increased risk of kidney stones, reduced testosterone production and effects on brain health by causing a lack of antioxidant production in the brain.
After reading this you may think, I'm healthy now, why would I want to take vitamin K2?
Here's why: deficiencies of K2, (and vitamin D) are the main causes of bone loss, arterial calcification, as well as big factors in diabetes and Alzheimers. You can't feel bone loss or your arteries calcifying. You can't feel the onset of diabetes or dementia. So if you are young enough, taking K2 now will help prevent or delay the onset of these diseases.
At the very least, begin including K2 bearing foods in your diet, such as pastured egg yolks, pastured butter, hard cheeses like Dutch gouda, edam and brie. Also liver, and grass fed meats and free range poultry — more K2 in dark meat.
In order to get 45 mcg of vitamin K2 daily one would have to consume:
- 8.8 lb. of beef
- 1.32 gallons of milk
- 1.32 gallons of yogurt
- 3 oz. of soft cheese
- 2 oz. of hard cheese
- 3 egg yolks
Despite the lingering bad press on animal fats, these fats and the fat soluble vitamins in them are absolutely essential for good health.
Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox by Kate Rheaume-Bleue N.D.
Textbook of Natural Medicine, Chapter 136, Christiana Paul, MS, Nutrition