Chronic inflammation is low-grade and systemic, often silently damaging your tissues over an extended period of time. This process can go on for decades without you noticing, until disease symptoms suddenly occur long after irreversible damage is done. Chronic inflammation is the source of many diseases, including cancer, obesity, and heart disease, which essentially makes it the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Knowing how to keep chronic inflammation at bay is also invaluable in protecting your health, which brings us to a new study on vitamin K2 presented at the 13th International Nutrition and Diagnostics Conference (INDC 2013) in the Czech Republic.1 The study revealed that a specific type of vitamin K2 (MK-7) may help prevent inflammation. But before I get into the details, it's important to understand the different forms that vitamin K comes in.
The Two Basic Types of Vitamin K – K1 and K2
Vitamin K can be classified as either K1 or K2:
• Vitamin K1: Found in green vegetables, K1 goes directly to your liver and helps you maintain a healthy blood clotting system. (This is the kind of K that infants need to help prevent a serious bleeding disorder.) It is also vitamin K1 that keeps your own blood vessels from calcifying, and helps your bones retain calcium and develop the right crystalline structure.
• Vitamin K2: Bacteria produce this type of vitamin K. It is present in high quantities in your gut, but unfortunately most is passed out in your stool. K2 goes straight to vessel walls, bones and tissues other than your liver. It is present in fermented foods, particularly cheese and the Japanese food natto, which is by far the richest source of K2.
Vitamin K1 can convert to K2 in your body, but there are some problems with this; the amount of K2 produced by this process alone is typically insufficient. Making matters even more complex, there are several different forms of vitamin K2. MK-8 and MK-9 come primarily from dairy products. MK-4 and MK-7 are the two most significant forms of K2 and act very differently in your body:
• MK-4 is a synthetic product, very similar to vitamin K1, and your body is capable of converting K1 into MK-4. However, MK-4 has a very short biological half-life of about one hour, making it a poor candidate as a dietary supplement. After reaching your intestines, it remains mostly in your liver, where it is useful in synthesizing blood-clotting factors.
• MK-7 is a newer agent with more practical applications because it stays in your body longer; its half-life is three days, meaning you have a much better chance of building up a consistent blood level, compared to MK-4 or K1. MK-7 is extracted from the Japanese fermented soy product called natto. You could actually get loads of MK-7 from consuming natto, as it is relatively inexpensive and is available in most Asian food markets. Few Americans, however, tolerate its smell and slimy texture.
Vitamin K2 as MK-7 Helps Prevent Inflammation in Your Body
Vitamin K2, particularly menaquinone-7 (MK-7), has been the subject of much research because it stays active in your body longer so you are able to benefit from much lower levels. The study from the Czech Republic evaluated the role of MK-7 in inflammation and found that it prevents inflammation by inhibiting pro-inflammatory markers produced by white blood cells called monocytes. NattoPharma reported:2
"The novel finding in our study supplements our three-year clinical study showing MK-7's ability to slow down cardiovascular aging and osteoporosis, and it should further serve as the catalyst to create the urgency of daily consumption of MK-7… We know that in Western populations, most people do not obtain enough due to modern diet.
Our food is increasingly deficient in vitamin K2 in particular, and up to 98% of the general healthy population may be vitamin K2 insufficient with long-term detrimental impact on bone and cardiovascular health."
It's important to realize that dietary components can either trigger or prevent inflammation from taking root in your body. For example, whereas synthetic trans fats and sugar, particularly fructose, will increase inflammation, eating healthy fats such as animal-based omega-3 fats found in krill oil or the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) will help to reduce them.
MK-7 appears to be one more healthful natural substance that can be added to the anti-inflammatory list, and I'll discuss the best food sources of this shortly.
As for inflammation in general, if you have not already addressed your diet, this would be the best place to start, regardless of whether you're experiencing symptoms of chronic inflammation or not. To help you get started, I suggest following my free Optimized Nutrition Plan, which starts at the beginner phase and systematically guides you step-by-step to the advanced level.
What Else Is Vitamin K2 Good For?
The health benefits of vitamin K2 go far beyond blood clotting, which is done by vitamin K1, and vitamin K2 also works synergistically with a number of other nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D. Its biological role is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth. It also plays a role in removing calcium from areas where it shouldn't be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues.
Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, a naturopathic physician, estimates that about 80 percent of Americans do not get enough vitamin K2 in their diet to activate their K2 proteins to shuttle the calcium where it needs to be and remove it from the places where it shouldn't be. Vitamin K2 deficiency leaves you vulnerable to a number of chronic diseases, including:
Heart attack and stroke
Inappropriate calcification, from heel spurs to kidney stones
"I talked about vitamin K2 moving calcium around the body. Its other main role is to activate proteins that control cell growth. That means K2 has a very important role to play in cancer protection," Rheaume-Bleue says. "When we're lacking K2, we're at much greater risk for osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer. And these are three concerns that used to be relatively rare. Over the last 100 years, as we've changed the way we produced our food and the way we eat, they have become very common."
Researchers are also looking into other health benefits, as well. For example, one study published in the journal Modern Rheumatology found that vitamin K2 has the potential to improve disease activity besides osteoporosis in those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).3
Another, published in the journal Science found that vitamin K2 serves as a mitochondrial electron carrier, thereby helping maintain normal adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production in mitochondrial dysfunction, such as that found in Parkinson's disease.4 Further, according to a 2009 Dutch study, subtypes MK-7, MK-8 and MK-9 in particular are associated with reduced vascular calcification even at small dietary intakes (as low as 1 to 2 mcg per day).5
What Are the Best Food Sources of Vitamin K2, Including MK-7?
You can obtain all the K2 you'll need (about 200 micrograms) by eating 15 grams of natto daily, which is half an ounce. However, natto is generally not appealing to a Westerner's palate, so you can also find vitamin K2, including MK-7, in other fermented foods. Fermented vegetables, which are one of my new passions, primarily for supplying beneficial bacteria back into your gut, can be a great source of vitamin K if you ferment your own using the proper starter culture.
We had samples of high-quality fermented organic vegetables made with our specific starter culture tested, and were shocked to discover that not only does a typical serving of about two to three ounces contain about 10 trillion beneficial bacteria, but it also contained 500 mcg of vitamin K2.
Note that not every strain of bacteria makes K2. For example, most yogurts have almost no vitamin K2. Certain types of cheeses are very high in K2, and others are not. It really depends on the specific bacteria. You can't assume that any fermented food will be high in K2, but some fermented foods are very high in K2, such as natto.
Others, such as miso and tempeh, are not high in K2. In my interview with Dr. Rheaume-Bleue, she identified the cheeses highest in K2 are Gouda and Brie, which contain about 75 mcg per ounce. Additionally, scientists have found high levels of MK-7 in a type of cheese called Edam.
How Much Vitamin K2 Do You Need?
Although the exact dosing is yet to be determined, Dr. Cees Vermeer, one of the world's top researchers in the field of vitamin K, recommends between 45 mcg and 185 mcg daily for adults. You must use caution on the higher doses if you take anticoagulants, but if you are generally healthy and not on these types of medications, I suggest 150 mcg daily.
Fortunately, you don't need to worry about overdosing on K2—people have been given a thousand-fold "overdose" over the course of three years, showing no adverse reactions (i.e., no increased clotting tendencies). If you have any of the following health conditions, you're likely deficient in vitamin K2 as they are all connected to K2:
• Do you have osteoporosis?
• Do you have heart disease?
• Do you have diabetes?
Please note also that if you opt for oral vitamin D, you also need to consume vitamin K2 in your food or take supplemental vitamin K2, as they work synergistically together and an imbalance may actually be harmful. If you do not have any of those health conditions, but do NOT regularly eat high amounts of the following foods, then your likelihood of being vitamin K2 deficient is still very high:
• Grass-fed organic animal products (i.e. eggs, butter, dairy)
• Certain fermented foods such as natto, or vegetables fermented using a starter culture of vitamin K2-producing bacteria
• Certain cheeses such as Brie and Gouda (as mentioned, these two are particularly high in K2, containing about 75 mcg per ounce)
If You're Considering a Vitamin K2 Supplement…
There's no way to test for vitamin K2 deficiency. But by assessing your diet and lifestyle as mentioned above you can get an idea of whether or not you may be lacking in this critical nutrient. The next best thing to dietary vitamin K2 is a vitamin K2 supplement. MK-7 is the form you'll want to look for in supplements, because in a supplement form the MK-4 products are actually synthetic. They are not derived from natural food products containing MK-4. The MK-7– long-chain, natural bacterial-derived vitamin K2– is from a fermentation process, which offers a number of health advantages:
• It stays in your body longer
• It has a longer half-life, which means you can just take it once a day in very convenient dosing
Finally, remember to always take your vitamin K supplement with fat since it is fat-soluble and won't be absorbed without it.