Did you know that there are two different types of vitamin K? Vitamin K1 is found in high quantities in leafy greens and other vegetables, while vitamin K2 is found in full-fat dairy, meat and fermented foods like natto, kimchi and sauerkraut. Together these vitamins are important in blood clotting and calcium synthesis – but K2 on its own is a potential powerhouse of health benefits, such as:
1) Synthesizing and Distributing other Vitamins and Minerals
While vitamin K1 works with the liver to help calcium bind with proteins and clot blood, vitamin K2 helps to determine where the mineral ends up, by activating proteins that carry calcium throughout the body. K2 is found in cheese, yogurt and other full-fat dairy products – a cup of full-fat yogurt has the dual benefit of calcium to make your bones strong, and vitamin K2 to make sure it all gets to the right place. This vitamin also helps the body to process and utilize other important nutrients, such as vitamins C and D – making it an important aspect of overall nutrition. For a healthy meal packed with vitamin K, try a dish of fatty red meat or scrambled eggs with a side of leafy greens.
2) May Help Support a Healthy Heart
Though so far only observational studies have been done, it seems like vitamin K2 may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. Doctors increasingly believe that a build-up of calcium in the arteries is a possible risk factor for heart attack and heart disease. K2’s aforementioned ability to control where calcium ends up affects not just the bones but the heart as well. According to a study completed in 2004 in Rotterdam, patients who took a vitamin K2 supplement each day had a lower risk of dying from heart disease over a seven to 10 year period. This link between vitamin K2, calcium and heart disease also suggests that overall bone health may be indicative of a person’s risk factor for heart disease.
3) Keeps Bones Strong and Healthy
Calcium buildups in the arteries and heart could mean that not enough calcium is reaching the bones – another area where vitamin K2 might play a big role. Doctors and scientists already know that vitamin K2 helps with the mineralization process in bones. While vitamin K2’s role in the distribution of calcium is well known, emerging research has shown a possible correlation between vitamin K2 intake and prevention of bone loss in healthy postmenopausal women. The vitamin may be important in promoting proper bone density. A Japanese study dating back to 2000 found that 120 osteoporosis patients who took 1.5 mg of vitamin K2 daily reduced their risk of spinal fractures by 52%, as compared to a control group who did not take the supplement. It is thought that people from certain regions of Japan experience such benefits of vitamin K2 because of the high instance of fermented foods in their diet.
4) May Support Dental Health
If vitamin K2 is so important in bone health, it makes sense that it would also have a positive effect on our teeth. At this point in time no formal research has been done – but many experts speculate that K2 is likely to aid in the maintenance of good dental health. K2 regulates a protein called osteocalcin, which in turn stimulates the growth of dentin, the hardened tissue that makes up the bulk of our teeth underneath the enamel. Without vitamin K2, our teeth might not be as strong and dense. Vitamin K2 also works together with vitamin D and C – which are already known to be good for our teeth – distributing and activating the nutrients in the body.
5) May Reduce the Risk of Some Types of Cancer
Preliminary research has suggested that Vitamin K2 might help with certain types of cancer. In two separate clinical trials, vitamin K2 was found to have a promising effect reducing the recurrence of liver cancer, and allowing patients with the disease to live longer. Another study, published in 2008, observed 11,000 men over a period of eight and a half years and found that those who had high vitamin K2 intakes had a significantly reduced risk of advanced prostate cancer – interestingly, vitamin K1 in the same study had no effect. While more studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of vitamin K2 in the prevention of cancer, these are promising initial results.
6) May Support Brain Health
A small observational study published in 2008 has indicated that patients with Alzheimer’s disease showed significantly lower levels of vitamin K than those with healthy brain function. While as yet there has been little research conducted into the link between vitamin K and brain function, the theory is that vitamin K2’s calcium-distributing properties may also help prevent excess calcium deposits from building up in the brain – a possible factor in the development of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
7) Supports Skin Elasticity and Healthy Aging
Calcium, while essential to good health, doesn’t just build up in the arteries and the bones. It can also migrate into the elastin in our skin, causing our skin to lose its softness and elasticity over time. This is a normal part of aging. Because of its calcium-controlling properties, scientists have speculated that vitamin K2 might also help with keeping skin healthier as we age. A study was done in 2011 that linked excessive skin wrinkling to lower bone mass, suggesting a possible link between skin elasticity and calcium distribution. Anecdotal evidence suggests that elderly Japanese people tend to have fewer wrinkles, possibly because they regularly consumed natto, a dish of fermented soybeans that is notably high in vitamin K2.
Humans are able to convert some of the vitamin K1 that we eat into vitamin K2. However, research suggests that consuming vitamin K2 directly has more of an impact on health. Modern western diets tend to be low in animal products and fermented foods, meaning many people may not be getting enough vitamin K2. It’s easy to obtain the vitamin by adding organ meats and high fat dairy products to your diet. There are also a number of K2 supplements on the market that are suitable for vegans and vegetarians.