The forgotten vitamin: ‘K2 has not even begun to realize its potential’

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

The forgotten vitamin: ‘K2 has not even begun to realize its potential’

Related tags: Vitamin k2, Osteoporosis

Is 2013 the year for vitamin K2 in the US? A breakthrough study and growing awareness over deficiency point to progress, but consumer awareness is still growing in baby steps for ‘the most fascinating of all vitamins’, says a leading supplier.

Vladimir Badmaev, MD, PhD, Head of R&D for NattoPharma ASA, told NutraIngredients-USA that the market for natural vitamin K2 is already significant, approaching several tons in the US and 1.5 tons in EU – “and with this it has not even begun to realize its potential.

“Asia, with the exception of India, has only begun promoting vitamin K2 for health purposes,”​ said Dr Badmaev, “and the smaller but developing markets in South America, such as Brazil, have yet to begin.

“However, growing epidemiological evidence indicates that a burgeoning percent of the global population, which otherwise appears healthy, is deficient in vitamin K2; this has far-reaching consequences for overall health, well-being and economies of many countries.”

Despite the "far-reaching consequences", the number of dietary supplements launched containing vitamin K remains small, according to data obtained this week from Mintel. A spokesperson for the market researcher told NutraIngredients-USA that, in 2010, only 4% of new vitamin and dietary supplement products launched in the US contained vitamin K. This fell by half to 2% of new vitamin and dietary supplement products launched in the US for both 2011 and 2012. 

K forms

There are two main forms of vitamin K: phylloquinone (vitamin K1) which is found in green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli and spinach, and makes up about 90% of the vitamin K in a typical Western diet; and menaquinones (vitamins K2), which make up about 10% of Western vitamin K consumption and can be synthesized in the gut by the microflora.

Menaquinones (MK-n: with the n determined by the number of prenyl side chains) can also be found in the diet; MK-4 can be found in animal meat, MK-7, MK-8, and MK-9 are found in fermented food products like cheese, and natto is a rich source of MK-7.

The most fascinating of all vitamins

NattoPharma’s Dr Badmaev recognizes the pioneering research on vitamin K’s new applications by researchers at Maastricht University in The Netherlands.

“Vitamin K has been re-discovered by science as a versatile vitamin only in recent years and it is a natural course of events that there is a relative quiet while new applications of vitamin K are being confirmed in pre-clinical and clinical tests,” ​he said.

“The researchers from Maastricht University noted that vitamin K came from a relative obscurity as a single-function ‘homeostasis vitamin’ to be re-discovered as a ‘multi-functional vitamin’ and arguably the most fascinating of all vitamins.”

bone_xray_hip_fracture_skeleton

As reported by NutraIngredients-USA last week​, vitamin K2 was back in the headlines with a ‘breakthrough’ study, published in Osteoporosis International, ​which indicated that vitamin K2 supplements may reduce bone loss and improve bone impact strength in postmenopausal women.

Dr Cees Vermeer, lead investigator for the study from VitaK at Maastricht University, said: “These demonstrated improvements in clinical outcomes are extremely important.

“Despite reports on small or insignificant effects on bone health after clinical interventional studies on vitamin K2 – lasting up to one year - we have documented that MenaQ7 supplementation over three years prevents bone loss in postmenopausal women, confirming that bone health benefits of vitamin K2 is best demonstrated over longer periods than previously thought.

“The dose of 180 mcg of MenaQ7 per day significantly decreases age-related loss in bone mass and thereby exerts improvements in bone strength.”

Today, NattoPharma also announced a new publication of data from a human trial, which indicated MenaQ7 is a potent inhibitor of anticoagulant activity, a strong indicator of the protective benefits of natural K2 for vitamin k-dependent proteins.

The trial also showed that vitamin K2 is “much more potent than K1”​, said the company (Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis​, ​doi: 10.1111/jth.12203).

The calcium issue

Beyond bones, vitamin K has been linked to improvements in cardiovascular health. The benefits of the vitamin become ‘particularly obvious’ in view of growing number of studies that link supplemental calcium to detrimental effects on cardiovascular health, said Dr Badmaev.

“These epidemiological findings suggest that guidelines for calcium supplements may have to be revised, and calcium and vitamin D supplements may need to be complemented with vitamin K2 intake for efficient delivery of calcium to ensure effective performance of the body’s physiological functions,”​ he said.

Heart_iStock_free

“Therefore the evolving knowledge brings vitamin K2 to the forefront of supplemental vitamins that are needed to maintain health and prevent cardiovascular disease.”

There is also a potential role for the vitamin for sports nutrition, with studies reporting that vitamin K may improve our body’s ability to utilize oxygen, and reducing the risk of muscle cramping, said Dr Badmaev.

The wider benefits of vitamin K were also highlighted in a 2009 study by Joyce McCann, PhD, and Bruce Ames, PhD, from Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute​.

Educating consumers

Despite a growing list of potential health benefits, and scientific studies to back these up, consumer awareness of vitamin K is “growing at baby steps”​.

“Most of us may be vitamin K deficient or insufficient without knowing,”​ said Dr Badmaev. “Recent epidemiological studies suggest that most adults, apparently healthy, may be sub-clinically K2 deficient – which results in 10-40% of K2-dependent proteins not carboxylated and therefore rendered biologically inactive.​  

“Thus, although the intake of vitamin K in Western countries is sufficient for maintaining homeostasis, it might be insufficient​ to maintain post-translational modification of the vitamin K-dependent proteins, and thus insufficient to prevent osteoporosis, vascular calcification, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, and other diseases related to chronic inflammation.

“While the ‘breakthrough’ studies may bring more awareness for vitamin K supplementation, even less awareness exists among manufacturers and end customers on the proper form and quality of vitamin K needed in supplements,”​ he said.

“NattoPharma has undertaken another ‘breakthrough’ project in the field of manufacture and technology of natural vitamin K. This led to the development of the MenaQ7 Crystals brand.

“What is probably the most significant technological breakthrough in the MenaQ7 Crystals manufacture is a proprietary multi-step process of purification, condensation and crystallization of fermentation-derived K2. MenaQ7Crystals fermentation-process starting materials and excipients are soy free and hypoallergenic,” ​added Dr Badmaev.

“This innovative process leads to an end product that is more than 95% pure natural menaquinone-7 or MK-7 (100% trans-form), with less than 0.5% (traces) of menaquinone-6 (MK-6), a marker of natural menaquinone-7 technology (note: MK2-6 is not present in a synthetic MK-7 product).”

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3 comments

Importance of establishing appropriate dose for supplementation

Posted by Elizabeth Vavasour,

The increasing recognition of the role of vitamin K in the prevention of calcification of soft tissue such as the aorta and kidney and increased calcium deposition in bone is an exciting development but as with any nutrient, appropriate doses should be carefully assessed to avoid the induction of adverse effects as has been the case with other vitamin supplementation. From personal experience, I found that a daily dose of 120 micrograms of MK-4 led to adverse effects on heartbeat and eye health. Another issue is the appropriate balance with vitamin E as high doses of vitamin K2 will hasten breakdown of vitamin E through shared metabolic pathways. The Textbook of Natural Medicine (Pizzorno, Murray) notes that individuals from Japan eating natto generally consume in the region of 50 micrograms MK-7. An important consideration would be the increased availability of the assay for undercarboxylated osteocalcin in order to monitor the effects of supplementation and establish effective doses that do not induce adverse effects and metabolic imbalances.

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"Inhibitor of anti-coagulant activity"

Posted by Jules Abramson,

Dr.Kate says: MK-7 is a potent inhibitor of anti-coagulant activity ONLY for people taking an oral anticoagulant drug (e.g. warfarin/coumadin). In all other people it has no effect on blood clotting since the clotting proteins are already taken up with K1.

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"Inhibitor of anti-coagulant activity"

Posted by Jules Abramson,

On the other hand, natto contains nattokinase, a potent clot destroyer to prevent strokes, coronaries. I would beware of inhibiting anti-coagulant activity alone!

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