The Importance of Vitamin K2


See the rich gold yolk color in this farm raised egg.
Photo: Flickr CC via snowpea&bokchoi.

Have you ever noticed that farm fresh eggs from free ranging chickens have a deep golden-orange yolk color? Well, if you have, save that thought, because we’re going to come back to it later.

First, let’s review the fairly recent understanding of the importance of Vitamin D, which is quite a remarkable story, in fact, I’d go so far as to say that it is the most valuable information we’ve learned in holistic medicine in recent years.

Vitamin D is normally manufactured by our skin when exposed to sunlight, but in our modern society many of us spend our days indoors, lacking the opportunity to make healthy levels of it. Or, we wear sunscreens which prevent us from making it.

Back in 2005, psychiatrist Dr. John Cannell noticed that a select group of inmates who were receiving Vitamin D supplements all avoided a prison flu epidemic. He noted that low Vitamin D levels, which are prevalent in the wintertime due to lack of sun exposure, also happen to coincide with the influenza season. Because of its known role in healthy immune cell function, the vitamin may very well play an important protective role against infections like influenza.

In our diets, Vitamin D is found in relatively few foods, like mackerel and other fatty fish. As a supplement, it can be taken in the form of D3 gelcaps, or cod liver oil. It gets added as a nutritive supplement to whole milk, labeled Vitamin D milk.

Low levels of Vitamin D are thought to contribute to many diseases, including cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, depression, cardiovascular, autoimmune disorders, increased infections, and more.

“Strong biological and mechanistic bases indicate that vitamin D plays a role in the prevention of colon, prostate, and breast cancers.”—NIH

We now know that many of us have inadequate Vitamin D levels and that the vitamin is so much more important to our health than was previously realized. Having adequate levels means better health, and even longevity.

While most readers here are already well aware of the Vitamin D story, there is a lesser known, but important, part two to that story.

That part two is K2.

It is now understood that Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 work together. Vitamin K2 regulates how Vitamin D works in our bodies. It is K2 that directs calcium into our bones, but prevents it from being deposited into our organs, joints and arteries. It aids in the synthesis of important fats involved in brain metabolism.

Vitamin K2 is also thought to help with blood sugar stability, gene activation, heart and brain health. It plays a preventative role against osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

Inadequate K2 levels are worsened by eating low fat diets which many espouse today, because Vitamin K2 is highest in organ meats, egg yolks, cheese, dairy, and some fermented foods. In addition to diet choices, modern industrialized agriculture, too, plays a role in contributing to this vitamin deficiency.

Industrialized meat systems rely upon grain instead of grass for feeding poultry and cattle. These animals are generally capable of converting K1 into the K2 that we need if raised on a diet of grass, but this conversion doesn’t take place when fed only grain. For example, we know that chickens in the Netherlands are kept outdoors and raised on grass and insects, and eggs from there have twice the amount of K2 as compared to eggs here in the U.S. where they are mostly raised in industrial conditions.

Now, back to that thought you saved about egg yolks.

It is the beta-carotene in butter and egg yolks which is produced by pasture fed animals that gives them a healthy deep golden-orange color. More beta-carotene in the yolk translates to more K2, since it serves as an indicator for how the chicken was raised.

But, before you indulge in eating a golden colored egg yolk to get your healthy K2 vitamin, there is one more thing you need to know. A trick used by industrial poultry is the addition of synthetic dyes such as carotenoids, apoester, and canthaxanthin to chicken feed to make pale egg yolks appear darker in color.

So, just as with the Vitamin D story, you may have to get your K2 in the form of a supplement. It is recommended that you get tested to see whether your levels are low or in the recommended range before and during supplementation. Because both Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 are fat soluble vitamins, we need to be aware that too much supplementation can lead to toxicity.

It’s no wonder that the farmers of yesteryear who received sun exposure as they worked outdoors, and ate diets from their farms with pasture raised animals, including eggs, butter, and all of the organ meats, surprised us by their longevity.

They didn’t sit much, either, did they?

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Additional reading:
Epidemic Influenza And Vitamin D

NIH (National Institutes of Health) Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D

Could K2 be the next vitamin D?

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