26 Feb Are You Getting Enough K2? I doubt it
As parents, we realize in the delivery room how important Vitamin K is right out of the gate. One of the first shots your child will ever get is a shot of Vitamin K. Why? Babies are born with a Vitamin K deficiency. This deficiency makes newborns more vulnerable to bleeding, and why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all newborns receive an intramuscular dose of Vitamin K at birth. Also, those mom’s who are going to nurse their children may notice that they get an additional dose of Vitamin K because breast milk contains little to no Vitamin K, while formulas do.
Unlike the other fat-soluble vitamins, Vitamin K is a bit more complicated to describe. Why? There are 2 natural occurring forms of Vitamin K and each one comes from different sources and has different health benefits. Grouped together as K, they not only play a role in the body’s ability to clot (stop the bleeding from a cut or scrape … and you know our children do a ton of falling), but also bone building and strength, as well as support a healthy cardiovascular system (blood vessels and arteries). Through these diverse actions, Vitamin K holds promise in helping to prevent and manage some of the most crippling conditions associated with advancing age, including osteoporosis, coronary artery disease, and blood clots that can induce heart attack or stroke. Simply put, Vitamin K can have an impact on most areas and bodily processes. In fact, Vitamin K is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten vitamin” because its major benefits are often overlooked.
Like the body’s absorption of other fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, and E), Vitamin K absorption depends on healthy liver and gallbladder function. Unlike the other fat-soluble vitamins though, Vitamin K is not stored in the body. These two factors are the primary reason that I suggest we focus on both a diet high in Vitamin K and to supplement the diet as well. The problem with the diet part is that many of the foods are not on our children’s favorites lists. (We will cover food sources in a bit.)
Taking a closer look at the K family
For the purpose of this blog, we are going to consider that there are only 2 forms of Vitamin K: Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone) and Vitamin K2 (Menaquinone). There is actually a third type K3, but it is synthetic and used the pharmaceutical version (what is injected into newborns and acts like K1). I would prefer to stick with the naturally occurring forms since this is a natural health and healing book, and not about drugs.
Vitamin K1 is found primarily in these foods:
- Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are two of the best sources
- Collard greens
- Turnip greens
- Swiss chard
- Brussels sprouts
- Lettuce, green leaf
Meanwhile, the list of food sources for Vitamin K2 isn’t nearly as extensive.
Vitamin K2 is the result of a bacterial fermentation, so it can be found in fermented foods, such as hard-rind cheeses, soft cheeses, raw dairy products (butter, kefir), and sauerkraut. The richest dietary source of Vitamin K2 is Natto, a traditional Japanese breakfast dish of fermented soybeans. It typically delivers the highest concentration of Vitamin K2 found in the human diet and can provide several milligrams of Vitamin K2 on a daily basis. That is, if you can stomach it – Natto has a texture, smell, and consistency that few Westerners can take. What’s more, most Americans do not eat many fermented foods in general. Adding traditionally fermented foods to your diet is a must, and although not widely known, the health benefits of these foods are tremendous.
Because the foods that are high in K2 are not normally part of our diet and the amounts of beneficial bacteria may be limited for multiple reasons, I suggest we all supplement (not just our children’s) our diets.
I will spend the remainder of my discussion on the importance of Vitamin K2 specifically, since it is my belief that K1 has little to do with the growth and development of your child and more to do with the potential healing from trauma (cuts, scrapes, bruising, etc.). I am not saying that K1 is not important for your child and their health, just that it will not have as much of an impact on growth and development (which also means preventative health).
How does K2 work?
The main function of Vitamin K2 is activating proteins already in the body to give them the ability to bind calcium. However… the roles of Vitamin K1 and K2 are quite different and I feel that they should be classified as separate nutrients altogether.
Vitamin K1 is mostly used by the liver to activate calcium-binding proteins involved in blood clotting. Vitamin K2 is also used in blood clotting, but remains in the body longer (i.e., is more bioavailable), so it goes beyond the liver to other systems in the body, such as the cardiovascular system and the bones. Vitamin K2’s primary function is to to activate proteins that regulate where calcium ends up in the body.
Even within the discussion of Vitamin K2, there are two forms: Menaquinone-4 (MK-4) and Menaquinone-7 (MK-7). Recent studies show that natural vitamin K2 as MK-7 is consistently found to be much more effective compared to MK-4. This is mainly due to MK-7 being better absorbed and lasting longer (8-10 times longer) in the body. These two reasons and the fact that MK-7 is the form with the most credible research showing its benefits are why I use and recommend using Vitamin K2 as MK-7 as part a daily supplement regimen. MenaQ7® is a specific brand of Vitamin K2 as MK-7 that has the most compelling research that not only will impact the growth and development of our children, but also help us as adults with our health and longevity. (From here on out my reference to K2 will be with regards to MenaQ7 and the science showing its benefits for your child’s growth and development.)
How does K2 affect our children?
There are several areas of interest when it comes to why I highly recommend Vitamin K2 be a part of your child’s Good Fats supplement program: Bone development (bone mineral density and strength, and overall development), dental health (stimulates the production of dentin), and cardiovascular health (arteries and blood vessels).
If you are like me, one of the biggest concerns I’ve had with regards to my children and their growth and development are in all of these areas. In fact, other than getting a good education and teaching them right from wrong, these could be the only other areas on which I would have focused.
Let’s take a closer look at K2 and how it helps in these areas.
- Bone health, development, and strength: Ever noticed how a baby’s bones are very small and fragile compared to adult bones? The fingers and toes on a baby are so very much smaller than ours, yet they become quite huge over time. How does that happen? For us to understand how important Vitamin K2 is for our child’s growth and development in bone health, let’s take a quick “How bones grow 101” class.
Bones are made of a network of calcium laid down by cells. As kids grow, special cells at the end of bones add new calcium to the network of bone. Children have layers of these cells in the shape of plates at the ends of their bones. These are called “growth plates,” and they close up when kids reach their full adult height. This bone lengthening and thickening stops around the age of 25. From that point on “we are just trying to hang onto what we have”, as a dear friend and Naturopath would say.
In order for this process of bone growth to occur, I believe we all know that the mineral Calcium is important, but there are more “players” to consider. Minerals such as Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc, and Copper, and trace minerals like Boron, Silicon, Strontium, Vanadium, etc., are all involved in the mix. Throw in a nice dose of Vitamins D3 and A as previously mentioned, and now Vitamin K2, and we are well on our way to building strong bones for the long-haul. Specifically, Vitamin K2 activates a protein (osteocalcin) that is produced by bone-building cells (osteoblasts) in the body. Once activated, osteocalcin binds Calcium to the bone mineral matrix, making stronger, denser bones.
Unfortunately, recent research has shown that most children are Vitamin K deficient, which is likely attributable to the consumption of more processed food, and generally less that is naturally rich in K vitamins (keeping in mind that Vitamin K2 should be considered the “bone-health” form of K you need to focus on). With the average dietary Vitamin K2 intake dropping significantly over the last 50 years, today’s intake is insufficient for optimal bone development. It is for this reason that I don’t see the irony in the fact that the number of forearm fractures in children has increased over a similar 30-year period.
A recent study showed us that children can have up to 10 times more non-activated osteocalcin in their blood than the average adult. Keep in mind that osteocalcin needs to be activated by Vitamin K2 in order to bind calcium to the bone mineral matrix. They most likely have more of this free non-activated osteocalcin due to their rapid growth. In the same study the researchers noticed a significant change in non-activated osteocalcin after the children were given Vitamin K2 (MK-7 in this case).
A second study that looked specifically at MenaQ7’s effect in pre-pubertal children found that a dose as low as just 45 mcg a day was all that was needed to increase the amount of activated osteocalcin. This drives home the importance of supplementing with MK-7 (more specifically MenaQ7) to help support the needs of healthy bones in children. (British Journal of Nutrition, 2009)
Avoiding the dentist: If your child is anything like both of mine, a trip to the dentist can be a nightmare. Anything I can do to cut down on unwanted visits is important for not only to avoid the unpleasantness, but I also want my children to have healthy teeth their whole life. Similar to our discussion of Vitamin K2 for bone health, it is also helpful in teeth formation. The same “osteocalcin” that is activated by Vitamin K2 to help with bone formation and strength also plays a role in the formation of dentin (the calcified tissue underneath the enamel on your teeth). As with bone health, Vitamins A and D work synergistically with Vitamin K2 and the health of our teeth.
- Cardiovascular health: Since heart disease runs in my family and my ex-wife’s, being proactive for my kid’s sake is at the top of my list. Luckily, their mother and I do not have any signs of heart disease (we are both in our 50’s) and honestly I do not anticipate any problems because we both follow my 4 Pillars of Health closely. Being totally transparent, Vitamin K2 as MK-7 is relatively new to me and did not make it into my book on heart disease, 4 Pillars of Health: Heart Disease, 3 years ago. But, over the past 6 months, my own due diligence has made me a huge fan of Vitamin K2, earning it prime placement in my own supplement program.
Why is Vitamin K2 so important for heart health? One of the key functions of Vitamin K2 is to make sure the Calcium in your body ends up in your bones and not in your arteries (causing a calcification, or hardening of the arteries). A recent study gave more light to this, showing that people with the highest intake of vitamin K2 had a much lower risk of heart disease. Another study that specifically used MenaQ7 showed that supplementing with Vitamin K2 (menaquinone-7) not only inhibited age-related stiffening of artery walls, but also made a significant improvement in the elasticity. (Thrombosis and Haemostasis May 2015)
Please keep in mind that hardening of the arteries, heart disease, and other related issues are not usually in the forefront of a parents mind with regards to their children. What you should keep in mind that it is a lifetime of poor lifestyle choices (i.e., neglecting Diet, Exercise, Spirituality, and Supplements) will add up over time, not in an instant. Using Vitamin K2 as part of a child’s supplement program would be a great addition for any child, but especially those with a family history of heart disease.