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What is Vitamin K2?

What is Vitamin K2, and What Role Does It Have in Health

Vitamin K is well-known for its role in blood clotting, but the less well-known vitamin K2 may have important roles in bone health or even heart disease.

Vitamin K is important for clotting, you may know this if you know someone on blood thinning medications like warfarin.

Beyond that, it seems not much is said about vitamin K, but this may be changing as we learn more about vitamin K2.

What is vitamin K2?
Only in recent decades have scientists found that vitamin K1 and K2 have different functions. They both have roles as ‘on’ switches for functions in our body, but have different targets.

In the liver, vitamin K1 activates proteins that help with blood coagulation. For example, think about when you get a cut in your skin. Your skin will typically bleed for a short time, but soon stops. This is due to your body turning on processes that coagulate the blood at the wound, which slows or stops the flow. Without vitamin K1 activating these proteins, our blood would be unable to clot. Vitamin K1 may also have a role in bone health, similar to that of vitamin K2 described below.

Vitamin K2 helps turn on processes outside of the liver, like in our bones or our blood vessels. In blood vessels, it activates a protein called Matrix Gla-protein (MGP) which removes calcium from the lining of blood vessels. This is important for heart health, as calcification of blood vessels is a risk factor for heart disease. In bones, it activates osteocalcin, a bone-forming protein. It is an important nutrient for bone health because it helps our bones draw calcium from our blood vessels and turn it into bone tissue.

It is thought that calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2 act synergistically for bone health. Calcium is the main building block of our bone tissue. When we eat food rich in calcium, it goes through our digestive tract where it is digested and absorbed in our small intestine. Calcium is needed for other bodily functions, and if we don’t get it from our diet our body pulls it from ‘storage’ i.e. our bones. This is why calcium deficiencies in the diet can lead to conditions like osteoporosis (bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both) – we are pulling more from our bones than we are putting in. It might be helpful to think of it like a bank: sometimes you put money in, sometimes you take money out, but when you constantly take more out than you put in, it can lead to bad things down the road.

Calcium can be hard for our bodies to absorb and utilize, but that is where vitamin D can help by improving our body’s ability to absorb calcium from our diet more efficiently. It also prevents our body from removing calcium from our bones when we are getting enough elsewhere. In other words, vitamin D signals to our body that calcium is available from a food source. In the banking analogy, think of vitamin D like a notification that a paycheck is coming. When you get the notification, you can anticipate what to do with the money and you also know you don’t need to withdraw from your savings.

Vitamin K2 helps with the next step. Once you’ve eaten a high calcium food and vitamin D has helped you absorb it, your body will have calcium flowing through your blood vessels. It is thought that vitamin K2 may help our bones draw this calcium out of our blood stream and deposit it into bone tissue.

Where do we get vitamin K2 in our diets?
The best sources of vitamin K2 are animal foods, specifically meat, egg yolks, and high fat dairy products. Many animals can convert vitamin K1 into vitamin K2, which is why animal foods can be a good source of this nutrient.
Some of the best sources of vitamin K2 originate from microbes like bacteria. This means that certain fermented foods like cheese, curd, and natto (fermented soy-beans) are some of the best sources of vitamin K2. Natto contains significantly more vitamin K2 than any other food source (over 20x more than cheese).

We explicitly state that the information provided on this website is for educational purposes only, and does not substitute for professional medical advice. We advise users to consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if they’re seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment