Vitamin K2 is an anti-ageing supplement that’s rarely talked about but is crucial to arterial health, bone strength and skin elasticity, says Anna Magee
You’ve heard of vitamins A, B, C, D and E. But further down the alphabet is a lesser known nutrient that rarely gets a mention, yet is essential for health – vitamin K. In fact, recent clinical studies have suggested that taking vitamin K2 could help reduce the bone loss that women suffer with age and could also improve cardiovascular health through the reduction of arterial stiffness.
But vitamin K’s benefits don’t end there. Vitamin K2 could also help prevent the loss of elasticity in the skin and help reduce varicose veins, making it nature’s unsung anti-ageing supplement.
What is vitamin K?
Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin that is good for blood clotting and contributes to a healthy heart, bones and immune system.
There are two different forms: Vitamin K1, found predominantly in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli and vitamin K2 found in meat, eggs, dairy and fermented foods such as natto (fermented soya beans) sauerkraut and some fermented cheeses and yoghurts.
The main role of vitamin K1 is to ensure adequate blood clotting, whereas the part vitamin K2 plays in health is far different. Vitamin K2 ensures calcium is directed into the correct areas within the body.
Vitamin K2 activates proteins that help move calcium into the bones which is essential for bone strength, density and circulatory health through the regulation of calcium. It keeps calcium moving through the body and assists in the depositing of calcium into bone mass rather than into the arteries which can cause hardening.
Who needs vitamin K?
Many of us are deficient in vitamin K2. In fact, a population study published in Nutrients Journal found that vitamin K insufficiency was present in almost one in three participants. Deficiencies were found to be higher in the elderly but also in those with high blood pressure, Type-2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.
Low vitamin K levels can also result can also be the result of poor diet, high alcohol intake, simply getting older or taking certain medications. In fact, one study has found that taking statins (a common medication prescribed for cholesterol control), could deplete K2 levels in the body.
‘Most people need more K2 as in the West we are not getting enough from our diets,’ says Healthista Nutritional Director Rick Hay. ‘It’s extremely important to cardiovascular health and for bone density and is also crucial to keep skin looking its best [see below].’ Moreover, poor digestive health can make deficiency worse, Hay explains, as good gut bacteria is required to convert vitamin K1 to K2. ‘Good vitamin K2 levels are also essential to vitamin D absorption,’ says Hay.
What are the signs of vitamin K deficiency?
‘Brusing and bleeding easily may signal a deficiency in vitamin K,’ says Hay. ‘Other signs may include tooth decay, poor gum health, weak bones and heart problems, he explains. ‘High antibiotic use can result in poor absorption of vitamin K2 from food because it compromises stomach bacteria.’
Puberty and menopause – times when you need more vitamin K2
There are specific times in a woman’s life that requires increased – or more efficient – calcium production, puberty and menopause.
Taking K2 as a teenager can help safeguard against bone and cardiovascular issues in later life. The elderly can also benefit from taking K2 as they have elevated risks of both losing bone density and cardiovascular health risks.
But vitamin K2 is especially important for post-menopausal women because falling levels of the hormone oestrogen can lead to losses of up to a staggering 20 per cent of their bone density leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
More anti-ageing effects of vitamin K2
Just as it prevent the calcification of arteries, veins and soft tissue, so too vitamin K2 can help stop excess calcium in the elastin in the skin. For this reason, K2 may help keep skin elastic and prevent wrinkles.
In fact, 2011 research showed that women with extensive wrinkles were also more likely to have low bone density too. Moreover, other research has found that Japanese women were less likely to have wrinkles than women from other cultures and noted the high natto (a traditional food made from fermented soy beans and high in vitamin K2) content in the diet of Japanese women.
The same action that makes vitamin K beneficial for bone health may also make it helpful for those with varicose veins.
While human research is still in its early stages, we do know that vitamin K is needed to produce metric GLA protein (MGP) which helps avoid calcification in the arteries. This same protein helps stop calcification in the veins as well, since the calcium meant for the bones is ushered into the bones and therefore not accumulated in the veins and arteries
The preliminary study published in the Journal of Vascular Research found that vitamin K2 was necessary preventing and reducing varicose veins.
The best food sources of vitamin K2 include:
- Hard cheese
- Soft cheese
- Egg yolk
- Chicken liver
- Chicken breast
- Ground beef
Do I need to take a vitamin K supplement?
Historically, vitamin K has been ignored as a dietary supplement because it was believed adequate levels were present in the diet. This is indeed true for vitamin K1 but vitamin K2 can be difficult to source from a western diet, especially if you don’t eat many animal products or fermented foods.
This can be made worse by modern agriculture as well as refrigeration which of course has its strengths but also prevents the natural fermentation of food which converts vitamin K1 to vitamin K2 naturally. Your digestive bacteria can do the job of converting vitamin K1 to vitamin K2 but this is inefficient and modern-day diets have further reduced the efficiency of our gut to carry out this conversion.
But before you take a supplement, you must check with your doctor. Vitamin K2 can interfere with the actions of common medications including some antibiotics and blood-thinning medications taken for high blood pressure. ‘If you have kidney or liver disease or are pregnant or breastfeeding check with your GP before taking vitamin K2,’ Hay advises.
Which vitamin K2 supplement?
Clinical studies such as this one from 2013 show that taking 180 milligrams of vitamin K2 in three separate doses through the day could help reduce bone loss and improve cardiovascular health through the reduction of arterial stiffness. ‘Regular small doses of vitamin K2 are best as this helps with calcium adoption throughout the day,’ says Rick Hay.
Absorption is a key issue with vitamins and taking vitamin K2 may be better delivered through an oral spray such as BetterYou Vitamin K2 Oral Spray £17.95 from Healthista Shop. It acts faster to deliver vitamin K2 to the bloodstream via the soft tissue of our inner cheeks.
In fact, a study on vitamin D published in Nutrition Journal showed that vitamin absorption via and oral spray is 2.5 times more effective than vitamin capsules. Plus, an oral spray is fast absorbing and not reliant on food or water to take.
For more information on Vitamin K2, click here.
How vitamin K2 works – explainer video:
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