What is Vitamin K2 and What are Its Functions?

Vitamin K2 is a group of fat-soluble compounds known as menaquinones. Menaquinones are mainly derived from bacteria and can be found in a variety of animal and fermented foods. Good animal sources include high-fat dairy products from grass-fed cows, egg yolks, liver, or organ meats. Lean meats and low-fat animal products contain lower amounts of vitamin K2. For vegans and strict vegetarians, the best source of vitamin K2 is natto, a fermented soy product. Almost all menaquinones, especially the long-chain menaquinones, are produced by bacteria in the human gut.


Functions and Effects of Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 plays an important role in bone metabolism. It is a nutrient required for the carboxylation of osteocalcin, an important protein secreted by osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) in the bone. When activated by vitamin K2, osteocalcin can absorb calcium into the bone and then incorporate it into the bone matrix along with osteoblasts. Additionally, when vitamin K2 is combined with vitamin D3, it helps to inhibit osteoclasts, the cells responsible for bone resorption.

The same osteocalcin also triggers the activation of matrix Gla protein (MGP), which helps to eliminate excess calcium that accumulates in soft tissues such as arteries and veins. Considering that about 20% of arterial plaques are composed of calcium from early to late stages of heart disease development, this becomes even more important.

In healthy individuals with a balanced diet, clinical coagulation problems caused by vitamin K1 deficiency are almost non-existent. However, for populations that prefer a Western dietary structure, it may be difficult to obtain enough vitamin K2 from the diet. In addition, serum vitamin K2 levels are not a reliable indicator. Under-carboxylated osteocalcin is an indirect marker of vitamin K2 levels and will be used more widely as a measurement in the future. Vitamin K2 deficiency can lead to reduced bone mineralization and the development of osteoporosis, and is more likely to affect heart disease. Evidence suggests that the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics may also lead to vitamin K2 deficiency.

Different Forms and Characteristics

Most multivitamin/mineral supplements contain vitamin K, with doses typically less than 75% of the daily value (DV). There are also stand-alone vitamin K supplements, or supplements that combine vitamin K with small amounts of other nutrients (usually calcium, magnesium, and/or vitamin D). These supplements often contain higher doses of vitamin K than multivitamin/mineral supplements, with some products providing doses of up to 4,050 micrograms (5,063% of the DV) or more.

Currently, there is still debate regarding the different forms of vitamin K in supplements and their respective effects. The most common forms are menaquinone-4 and menaquinone-7. Menaquinone-4 is synthesized from vitamin K1 and can be found in animal products and supplements, while menaquinone-7 is a long-chain menaquinone that is mainly found in fermented foods and supplements. Some studies suggest that menaquinone-7 may have a longer half-life and be more effective in improving bone health, while others suggest that both forms have similar effects. More research is needed to confirm the optimal form and dosage of vitamin K2 supplementation.

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