Vitamin K2, The Little-known Vitamin That May Have Big Health Benefits

Snow covered mountain in the sunlight with the foreground of the picture in the shaded region

K2 isn’t just a peak in the Himalayas!

When people talk about vitamins, they usually mean Vitamins A,B,C,D, and E.  Few people consider the role that Vitamin K plays in your everyday life, and even fewer know that there are multiple forms of Vitamin K.  Let’s talk about what a vitamin is and then explore a little bit into Vitamin K2.

What is a Vitamin?

“Be sure to get all your vitamins!” The word vitamin is so much a part of our zeitgeist that it rolls off of our tongues without us considering what it means (kind of like el-em-en-oh-pe).  Have you ever stopped to consider what a vitamin actually is, or what it does in our body?

From Merriam Webster  a vitamin is “any of various organic substances that are essential in minute quantities to the nutrition of most animals and some plants, act especially as coenzymes and precursors of coenzymes in the regulation of metabolic processes but do not provide energy or serve as building units, and are present in natural foodstuffs or sometimes produced within the body.”

Let’s Break That Down Piece by Piece.

  1.  “Act especially as coenzymes and precursors of coenzymes in the regulation of metabolic processes”  As we discuss in the BWCLP, your metabolism is the sum of ALL chemical reactions occurring throughout your entire body to produce, store, and regulate energy.  (Not just digestion)!  Coenzymes are factors that catalyze (help and speed up) chemical reactions.  Think back to high school chemistry class when you would combine two elements and add a third element that would assist the reaction of the first two.  Many vitamins play a crucial role in nearly all “chemical reaction” in your body.
  2. “But do not provide energy or serve as building units.” Basically, this means that vitamins in and of themselves do not provide calories, nor can your body make anything out of them.  Ie. They are not fats, carbs, or proteins.
  3. “Are present in natural foodstuffs or sometimes produced within the body.”  You get them from food and/or your body makes them.  Notice it did not say you get them from supplements or “fortified” foods.  Some people argue that supplements are worthwhile, as are fortified foods.  We do not share that belief.

What is Vitamin K?

Vitamin K was first discovered in the 1920’s and was recognized to be an important factor in blood clotting.  In today’s world we think of blood clotting as a negative thing due to its relationship with blood clots, embolisms, and strokes.  However, blood clotting is essential for survival, otherwise we would bleed out every time we scraped our knee.

Beyond blood clotting, very little was known about functions of vitamin K until recently.  Contemporary scientists are investigating other roles for Vitamin K specifically in bone health, artery health, oral health, and more.

What is Vitamin K2?

Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone) is generally considered to be the vitamin involved in blood clotting.  More recently scientists have discovered a different form of Vitamin K known as Menaquinone.  Menaquinone is thought to play a role in calcium deposition throughout your body which explains why it may have benefits towards promoting bone health.  Furthermore, studies have shown that ingestion of both K1 and K2 may actually have a role in mitigating development of atherosclerosis and lessening calcium plaques in our arteries!  Because our understanding of vitamin K2 is still in relatively early stages, little is known about how much we should be getting in our diets.

Where Do We Get Vitamin K?

Vitamin K1 can be obtained in our diet from green leafy vegetables suck as spinach, kale, chard, and others.  Keep in mind that it’s thought that we can only absorb 10% of the vitamin K we eat from thee sources.  It’s important to consider that vitamin K is a FAT soluble vitamin and there is very little fat (if any) in kale and spinach.  This may be why we absorb it so poorly from vegetable sources.

Vitamin K2 can be obtained from eggs, seafood, fermented foods like cheese and natto (fermented soy product), and……PORK.

We’re not encouraging you to go out and buy packets of bacon and hot dogs, but maybe don’t hesitate next time you walk past that pork tenderloin.  It may be better for your heart than we previously thought.

Can I supplement Vitamin K?

I wouldn’t recommend it.  First, studies have shown that supplementing K2 has little effect compared to dietary sources.  This study looked at a group of patients supplementing K2 and saw little change in calcium buildup in arteries.

Next, I always think about Vitamin A.  Did you know that supplementing vitamin A incorrectly can lead to Vitamin A toxicity pretty rapidly?  It’s too soon to know much about Vitamin K toxicity and dosage.  In short, we recommend getting it in your diet.