Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Quick Facts: Vitamin K2

Today starts the beginning of an ongoing, sporadic, nutrition series that will be entitled "The Quick Facts Series". As is no doubt abundantly clear (and perhaps somewhat ridiculously so), I spend an inordinate amount of time on learning more about nutrition. I euphemistically refer to this as "research", primarily to simplify, but also possibly in an attempt to make the time spent on it sound more justified. Hey, I'm not judging you for your Candy Crush addiction. We can all be friends here.

As such, I have decided to set up this series to provide information on topics and nutrients that you all probably know of or have heard a little bit about, but perhaps not much else. They'll consist primarily of some basic facts about the nutrient/illness/concept, and then may or may not go into further detail based on how complicated the topic is. They will be entirely based on my current knowledge base and I beg your forgiveness if I haven't ingested the book/article/podcast/tweet you know of that refers to something I neglected to add to the post. That's not to say I won't do research (see how that works?) for each post, but it does mean I'm not omniscient, I am guilty of human fallibility, and I am providing you with the best that I know.

Also, five facts on a topic necessarily leaves out a LOT. I'm just trying to give you the gist. Kind of like a summary on a book jacket without the cliffhanger.

I just finished a particularly epic book on Vitamin K2, which you can find here if you're so inclined. (Worth a read if you're into such things.) You may be familiar with Vitamin K1, the blood clotting vitamin, but while the two have the teensiest bit of overlap in their jobs, for all intents and purposes, they're not even related.

Here's a few factoids about K2:

1. K2 activates proteins that guide calcium into bones and teeth, and activates other proteins that escort calcium out of soft tissues-- like arteries. Essentially, K2 puts calcium where it belongs and kicks it out from where it doesn't. As such, it prevents and even reverses arterial plaque buildup.

2. K2 is almost unheard of (any more) in our modern diet, primarily because of our grain fed meat and dairy. K2 is made out of K1 that is found in greenery, by animals who eat the greenery. Our own bodies can synthesize (make/create) the tiniest amount of K2 out of K1 (which we get plenty of, generally), but nowhere near the amount we need. As such, it's pretty safe to assume that the vast majority of the population is deficient in K2.

3. Although bones and teeth are what first come to mind as far as K2 benefits, K2 also affects (directly or indirectly) wrinkles, Alzheimer's, diabetes, arthritis, cancer prevention, kidney disease, fertility, proper facial development in babies (in utero), and easier labor. It is NOT the fix for all these things, but having proper amounts of K2 can help all of them. It is particularly crucial for the facial development of babies, which includes a jaw that can comfortably fit all of the teeth that they grow, as well as providing quality teeth.

4. By the way, Vitamin K2 has only existed with that title (more or less) since 2007. (It was discovered by Weston A. Price in the 1930's but he called it Activator X and the connection was never made.) What this means for you, the label reader, is that K2 doesn't really exist. Seeing "Vitamin K" on a label means K1, not K2. This includes Recommended Daily Intake (RDI).

5. As with any supplement, K2 is not magic, or a superfood that fixes all ailments. But paired with other nutrients, it's a powerful tool for your body. K2 works best in tandem with Vitamins A and D and the three really should be taken together- or included in your diet, obviously. Just don't go crazy with one and ignore the others if you go the supplement route.

Where to find K2?

Vitamin K2 content is the absolute highest in a food most of us will never eat: natto. It's a slimy, fermented soy product. If you're not into such things, your best bets are grassfed/pastured animal fats, primarily butter or ghee. Check locally for other options, but as far as non-local sources, Organic Pastures periodically sells an organic pastured butter that comes in a green foil package and is a good option, although not perfect. Kerry Gold brand also has good options. These do cost more, so if you're on a tight budget, I would recommend getting the highest quality butter you can find and using it like a vitamin: half a teaspoon a day. Use whatever you're used to for other stuff. You can work up in time.  :-)

Other food sources:

  • Natto
  • Hard and soft cheeses (good news; the fermentation of cheese increases the minimal K2 found in grainfed milk, so this isn't a horrible source for K2, even if it isn't pastured. Tillamook cheese does not use GMO feed even though they're not necessarily organic or completely pastured, so they wouldn't be a bad option.)
  • Egg yolks from pastured hens (eat the whites, too, but it's the yolks that apparently hold the K2)
  • Bone broth, as I've mentioned before, is a source of K2 if it is made from pastured animals. Remember, K1 from pasture is what animals need in order to make K2, and they can't do that from grain.

Remember #5? Well, I take this supplement to meet all three requirements for A, D, and K2. It's a butter oil/ fermented cod liver oil (FCLO) mix, and the mix of the butter oil (K2) and the cod liver oil (A and D) is a powerhouse of nutrients. If you spend money on only one supplement, let it be this one. We don't make any money by referring you to this brand, but it's what I use, and it's renowned amongst traditional foodies for being the most quality option on the market.

If you're looking for nothing but K2, you'll have to look hard, but a supplement does exist. There are actually two forms to choose from:

  • MK-4 (may be called menatetrenone). MK-4 is synthetic, usually made from an extract of the Nicotiana tabacum plant. Typical therapeutic dose is 45 milligrams (4500 micrograms) per day. Unfortunately, it doesn't last long in the body and you'll have to take it multiple times daily to keep your levels up. I've read good things about this option . However, if you can find it, your best option is:
  • MK-7, a supplement extracted from natto. It requires only once daily dosages to maintain levels of both higher and more stable quality. Effective daily dose is about 120 micrograms. If you're menopausal or post-menopausal you'll have a higher requirement, so 240 micrograms would not necessarily be amiss, according to the book mentioned above. This is not the supplement for you if you're allergic to soy, although fermented soy (natto) is a drastically different product and will probably be fine for most folks. I don't know of any specific "sworn by" options for this version of supplement, but there are several options available here. 
Make sure the label says what you're getting MK4 (also labeled as menatetrenone) or MK7. If it doesn't say, you won't know the appropriate dosage to take. (Do know that K2 has no known toxicity, so you aren't playing with your life's pretty hard to OD on it, especially from food sources.)

This is just the tip of the K2 iceberg, but I hope it has been a little bit of help! Please leave questions in comments (or email me personally using the form on the left) if you have further questions. I'm happy to dig through my books to answer them.  :-)


  1. This definitely helps explain the advantage of pasture-fed rather than grain-fed. I've never really understood why (besides the obvious lack-of-feedlot lifestyle).

    1. One of many reasons! If you're familiar with e-coli problems, feedlots are a big issue. E-coli actually exists naturally in cows, but since they are meant to eat a green diet (alkaline), the e-coli never grows excessively strong. In a cow eating an acidic grain diet, the e-coli evolves so that it can survive in the more acidic environment. The issue this causes in humans is that our more acidic stomachs are meant to be able to override natural e-coli which is only as strong as the cow's alkaline diet...but in an acidic grain fed cow, the e-coli grows so strong that our human stomach can't overpower it.