Posted on April 25, 2013 -
In which we continue to examine more benefits of supplementing with Vitamin K2.
Free radical damage in the body, caused by toxins, radiation, and reactive oxygen molecules, are responsible for cancer, heart disease, inflammatory conditions and premature aging. That vitamin K2 also serves an antioxidant function, over and above its other many functions, makes it an important part of our body’s basic survival mechanisms.
One animal study subjected the test subjects to extreme free radical damage and found that vitamin K2 alone protected their livers from this oxidative stress. Another study showed vitamin K2 to be almost as effective as vitamin E in preventing oxidation of fatty acids, a benchmark of its antioxidant activity. (Vervoort LM, et al. 1997. The potent antioxidant activity of the vitamin K cycle in microsomal lipid peroxidation. Biochem Pharmacol 54:871-6)
One researcher (Catherine Tamaro, B.S.M.E.) has proposed that Vitamin K deficiency, which causes calcium to be unregulated in the body, and to deposit and form calcium oxalate crystals in the body, may be a cause of many of the symptoms associated with autism. Calcium oxalate crystals are found in many autistic children.
Calcium triggers neurons in the brain to fire, and excess calcium in the blood can cause the neurons to over-fire until they actually die. It is therefore suggested that the addition of Vitamin K to the diet of those with autism, would activate the bone proteins that regulate calcium, thereby reducing the over-firing of these neurotransmitters, and aiding in calming their brains.
A number of studies have linked vitamin K2 deficiency to increased cancer risk.
The “European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition” involved over 24,000 participants from the ages of 35 to 64, all who were free of cancer when enrolled in the study. The participants were tracked for cancer incidence and mortality for an average of 10 years. Part of the study tracked their vitamin K1 and K2 dietary intake over these years and compared it to cancer incidence and mortality.
What was found was that vitamin K2, but not vitamin K1, was inversely associated with the risk of getting cancer and dying from it. The benefits of vitamin K2 intake was, for some reason, better for men than women, especially showing a dramatic reduction in both lung and prostate cancer. The researchers concluded that the “intake of menaquinones, which is highly determined by the consumption of cheese, is associated with a reduced risk of incident and fatal cancer.” (Certain types of cheeses being some of the few sources of vitamin K2 found in the modern diet.)
Observations from this study indicated that the higher the intake of K2 the lower the risk of all forms of prostate cancer. But the most significant protection offered by vitamin K2 was against advanced prostate cancer, in which case it was associated with a 63% reduction in risk.
At the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, researchers have found that people who have higher intakes of vitamin K have a lower risk of developing Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In this study, even vitamin K1 (found mostly in leafy greens) showed a preventative value in reducing cancer risk. Those who had the highest levels of vitamin K1 from diet and/or supplements had a 45% less risk for developing this form of lymphoma. (Vitamin K2 Reduces Cancer Rate and Mortality Am J Clin Nutr. Nimptsch K, Rohrmann S, Kaaks R, Linseisen J.)
Researchers in Japan discovered that vitamin K2 may play a role in preventing the type of liver cancer caused by viral cirrhosis. In a 2004 study, 40 women with viral liver cirrhosis were studied, and half the women were given 45 mg vitamin K2 per day (this would be the MK4 form of K2 which requires milligrams to be effective).
The participants were followed for just over 7 years, after which it was determined that vitamin K2 supplementation was found to decrease the risk of the development of liver cancer in these subjects, possibly by delaying the onset of cancer. In the group treated with the vitamin K2, 2 of 21 patients developed liver cancer, compared to the group who did not receive vitamin K2 supplements, where 9 of 19 patients developed liver cancer. (Habu D, Shiomi S, Tamori A, Takeda T, Tanaka T, Kubo S, Nishiguchi S. Role of vitamin K2 in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma in women with viral cirrhosis of the liver. JAMA, 2004 Jul 21;292(3):358-61)
If we see a link between vitamin K deficiency and increased cancer rates, then we have to wonder what effect blood-thinning drugs (such as Warfarin) will have on cancer rates, since such drugs work by blocking vitamin K from doing it’s blood-clotting function. Since these blood-thinning drugs disable vitamin K activity, they also impede its antioxidant functions which must expose cells to higher amounts of free radical damage.
And indeed, a recent study looked at Warfarin use in men who had developed prostate cancer. There appeared to be no danger for the first 2 years of using Warfarin, but for those taking Warfarin for 4 or more years there was a 220% increased risk of having advanced prostate cancer. Evidently this finding could be explained simply by having a long-term depletion of antioxidant activity in the body. (Warfarin and Advanced Prostate Cancer Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. Tagalakis V, Tamim H.)
Believe it or not as far back as 1945 science was aware of the value of vitamin K2 in preventing dental cavities. Back then American researchers conducted a proper double-blind, placebo-controlled study of chewing gum that had a precursor to vitamin K2 (menadione) added to it. Using the gum reduced the incidence of new cavities, and caused a dramatic drop in the bad bacteria in the mouth that is linked to causing cavities (L. acidophilus, which in the gut is good, but not so in the mouth).
Now, as we gain greater understanding of the role of vitamin K in the body, it is becoming obvious that vitamin K2 especially is necessary for good dental health. Simply knowing that vitamin K is required for maintaining skeletal health tells us something about dental health, since teeth are a part of the skeletal system and, generally speaking, the worse your teeth are the more likely it is that your bones will be weakening as well.
We know that vitamin K2 stores in the body have some of the highest concentration in the salivary glands. In fact in rat studies, even if the rats are fed only vitamin K1, almost all of the vitamin K found in their salivary glands will exist in the form of K2. (Zacharski LR, Rosenstein R. Reduction of Salivary Tissue Factor (Thromboplastin) Activity by Warfarin Therapy. Blood. 1979; 53(3): 366-374)
Wondering at the pathetic state of dental health in America of the 1930’s and 40’s, dentist Dr. Weston A. Price (1870-1948) was motivated to search for reasons why. Dr. Price traveled the world to study humans that had not modernized and followed their ancient, traditional diets, including communities in the Outer Hebrides, Inuit and Indians of North America, Polynesian Islanders, African tribes, Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maori and the Indians of South America. In all these areas he found the inhabitants to have mostly perfect teeth and dental arches, almost no tooth decay, and superior general health and resistance to disease.
His research ultimately concluded that a traditional diet high in vitamins A, D, and K together could not only prevent cavities, but could also work to reverse them (for more information on his amazing research check out www.westonaprice.org ). As a result, he suggested the best foods for preventing and reversing dental cavities was cod liver oil and grass-fed butter oil, natural sources of vitamins A, D, and K2, and in fact he would often put his clients on this regimen, instead of drilling and filling cavities.
We now know that the growth and re-mineralization of the teeth that Dr. Price observed, in response to feeding his patients a combination of cod liver oil and grass-fed butter oil, was a result of providing the dentin (the support structure beneath the enamel) its 3 essential co-factors: vitamins A, D, and K2 (which he called “Activator X” since K2 had yet to be “discovered”).
Dentin produces osteocalcin, a protein that requires vitamin K, and which channels calcium into the skeletal system. Since dentin creates more osteocalcin than bone does, we know that osteocalcin plays an important role in the growth of new dentin. The production of osteocalcin is also dependent on vitamins A and D.
THE ROLE OF VITAMINS A & D
Those familiar with my other writings know that I believe vitamin A deficiency to be widespread, and that the dangers of too much vitamin A have been overplayed in the media. (More information on this can be found in my earlier blogs.) Dr. Price found that a traditional diet contained as much as 10 times more vitamin A that the standard Western diet (of his time period in the 1930’s and 40’s; I’m sure we don’t eat better than that now).
Vitamins A and D are required, along with vitamin K2, in order for the body to produce osteocalcin and MGP (matrix gla protein), both required for moving calcium around the body and ensuring it arrives at the proper locations. Without vitamins A and D these protein substances cannot be made, but without vitamin K2 they cannot be activated, so all three nutrients work together. And, when supplementing with one of them, we should ensure that we have adequate amounts of the other two.
Many people are supplementing with high levels of vitamin D but forgetting about vitamin A, which is in essence a co-factor of vitamin D. In nature both nutrients are found coexisting together in liver (fish or mammal), and would normally be consumed together, before we started taking nutrients in isolated forms.
It is most likely that the toxicity of excessive vitamin A may be due to the ensuing deficiency of vitamin D that follows, and vice versa. Fat-soluble nutrients are so interdependent that taking one fat soluble vitamin creates a need for the other fat soluble nutrients. Studies showing the dangers of supplementing with high levels of vitamins A or D, are based on them being taken in isolation and not in tandem.
Vitamin A is known to be necessary for the development and maintenance of the skeletal system because it is involved in the production and activity of osteoclast cells, which breaks down old bone material. This process is necessary to recycle bone tissue, both for maintaining bone density and for repairing fractured or broken bones.
Vitamin D produces the osteoblasts, those cells that build bone structure, so after the vitamin A breaks down old bone material, vitamin D steps in to help with the rebuilding of new bone tissue. Even though vitamin D can produce osteoblasts on its own, it has been found that when there is adequate vitamin A present, a synergistic effect occurs that produces more osteoblasts than vitamin D can do alone.
Recommended amounts of vitamin A and D vary depending on who you talk to, but one thing appears to be evident. As long as you have a reasonable amount of each, it will prevent toxicity overload from excess of the other. (See my earlier blogs for recommended amounts of vitamins A and D.)
Recent research on vitamin K2, published in the journal Science, has given new hope to people with Parkinson’s disease. Neuroscientist, Patrik Verstreken, stated “It appears from our research that administering vitamin K2 could possibly help patients with Parkinson’s. However, more work needs to be done to understand this better.”
In people who have Parkinson’s, the activity of their mitochondria has been disrupted, resulting in the mitochondria no longer producing sufficient energy for the cell. The mitochondria can be considered to be like power plants that drive the operation of each cell. As the cells in parts of the brain start dying off, communication between neurons is disrupted, resulting in the symptoms of Parkinson’s including lack of movement, tremors and muscle stiffness.
Upon discovering that the mitochondria in experimental fruit flies were defective, like with Parkinson’s patients, the flies were given vitamin K2. The flies with the genetic defect akin to the one associated with Parkinson’s had lost their ability to fly but once they were supplemented with K2 their ability to fly was restored.
Vitamin D is also required for healthy function of the mitochondria. Researchers from Newcastle University found that muscle function improved with vitamin D supplementation. The study was led by Dr Akash Sinha, who said: “We have proved for the first time a link between vitamin D and mitochondria function.”
WHAT DEPLETES VITAMIN K2?
Excessive antibiotic use, by killing off intestinal flora, can negatively affect the ability of the body to create vitamin K2 from the K1 found in the diet.
Any substances that interfere with absorbing fat-soluble nutrients can reduce vitamin K levels. This includes drugs that reduce cholesterol, Olestra, fat-blocking supplements and even low fat diets. In the case of low fat diets one should be aware that the oil found in salad dressing allows the vitamin K1 found in the leafy greens to be absorbed.
Mineral oil commonly used as a laxative can prevent absorption of vitamin K.
The preservative BHT interferes with the function of vitamin K.
Vitamin K deficiency can be caused by gallstones, diseases of the GI tract, liver disease, lack of gallbladder and estrogen drugs.
Extremely high levels of supplemental vitamin E, above 1200IU daily, can affect vitamin K’s ability to coagulate blood, if vitamin K levels are dangerously low in the body.
People on blood thinning drugs such as warfarin or heparin should not take vitamin K since it works by interfering with vitamin K activity in the body.
Since vitamin K is a fat-soluble nutrient if you are taking it in a softgel pill form (more effective than powder or tablets) you need to take it with a meal containing fat, in order to fully absorb it. This does not hold true with liquid vitamin K products which can be taken under the tongue and will absorb through the mouth.