Heart healthy functional foods – particularly dairy and butter/margarine – represent the biggest growth opportunity for natural vitamin K2, according to NattoPharma chief executive Peter Carlsson.
Carlsson was speaking to NutraIngredients-USA after preliminary findings from a three-year human intervention study using NattoPharma’s natural vitamin K2 MenaQ7 had generated encouraging results on cardiovascular and bone health parameters.
The research follows a high-profile rat study showing that arterial calcification, a key risk factor in cardiovascular disease, may be inhibited and even reversed with vitamin K2 supplementation.
Dr Vermeer: Treasure trove of data
Given that no drugs are currently available for the prevention or regression of arterial calcification, the potential of vitamin K2 in this regard was clear, said Carlsson, although he was unable to comment in detail on the new study as the data is not yet published.
NattoPharma R&D Manager Dr Dan Edwall added: “There will be several manuscripts because the study is quite extensive.
“There have been no journal submissions yet, as we are still compiling data and there are lots of samples in the freezers and data in the computers.”
Study leader Dr. Cees Vermeer, chief executive of Dutch research company VitaK and associate professor of biochemistry at Maastricht University, added: “It is really a treasure to have this set of data.”
Functional food applications
In the meantime, many food companies were working with samples of MenaQ7, although it has not yet featured in a major product launch, said Carlsson.
“Vitamin K2 is still fairly novel for the food market, although it is now in several supplements. However, I think things are really going to happen this year and next. We have big ambitions in the US and Canada. We have also been doing trials and building up knowledge so we can advise companies [on suitable applications].”
He added: “I can see it working well in formulations with calcium and vitamin D, which is already an established combination in dairy.”
As for consumer awareness, he said: “Many people connect vitamin K to bone health, but cardiovascular health is where we see the biggest opportunity and I think longer-term, the biggest opportunity lies in foods and beverages. Dairy products, butter and margarine are a particularly good fit as it is fat soluble.”
Natural vs synthetic
While other companies were selling natural and synthetic vitamin K2, NattoPharma differentiated itself via its clinical research and intellectual property portfolio, claimed Carlsson, adding that his firm had recently been awarded a Canadian patent covering the use of vitamin K2 in foods and supplements for promoting cardiovascular health.
Vermeer: Particular benefit for patients with renal disease
Dr Vermeer said it had now been clearly established that deficiency of vitamin K2 meant that a K2-activated protein called MGP (Matrix Gla Protein) could not do its job, which was preventing calcium from being deposited in the arteries.
As to whether synthetic vitamin K2 could deliver similar results, he said: “That would need to be demonstrated. The research that has been done has been done on natural vitamin K2.”
As for K2’s ability to tackle calcification that had already occurred, several more human studies were now underway specifically looking at this issue, said Vermeer.
“It could be particularly beneficial for patients with end stage renal disease, who are at particular risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Regarding bone health, more research using a combination of vitamin K2, calcium, vitamin D and magnesium was needed, he suggested.
NattoPharma makes MenaQ7 via fermentation using bascillus subtilis natto, a bacteria naturally occurring in fermented soy product natto. The process is claimed to produce a “highly pure and bio-available” form of natural vitamin K2 called menaquinone-7 (MK-7).
MenaQ7, which is self-affirmed GRAS and has been available in the US since 2005 and Canada since 2007, can also be sold in foods in the EU following a successful application under the Novel Food Regulation.
The different forms of Vitamin K
There are two main forms of Vitamin K: K1 (phylloquinone) and K2 (menaquinones).
Vitamin K1 is the principle source of dietary vitamin K (in broccoli, spinach etc), while vitamin K2 (found in meat, cheese, natto etc) exists in several forms, the most common being synthetic menaquinone-4 (MK-4) and natural menquinone-7 (MK-7).
MK-7 is said to be the most bioavailable and bioactive form of Vitamin K2, according to Dr Vermeer, who argues that vitamin K2 status is a strong and independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and mortality.
Bone and arteries: How does it work?
According to NattoPharma, MK-7 activates certain proteins in the body such as osteocalcin in bone building cells and MGP in the vasculature.
These proteins need to be activated in order to perform their job in binding calcium to the surface of bones and inhibiting calcium deposition in the arteries.