Vitamin K2, menatetrenone (MK-4)
Weston Price established the importance of the MK-4 isoform of vitamin K2 (hereafter, K2) with a series of interesting experiments. He showed in chickens that blood levels of calcium and phosphorus depended both on vitamin A and K2, and that the two had synergistic effects on mineral absorption. He also showed that chickens preferred eating butter that was rich in K2 over butter low in K2, even when the investigators couldn’t distinguish between them. Young turkeys fed K2-containing butter oil along with cod liver oil (A and D) also grew at a much faster rate than turkeys fed cod liver oil alone.
He hypothesized that vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin K2 were synergistic and essential for proper growth and subsequent health. He particularly felt that the combination was important for proper mineral absorption and metabolism. He used a combination of high-vitamin cod liver oil and high-vitamin butter oil to heal cavities, reduce oral bacteria counts, and cure numerous other afflictions in his patients. He also showed that the healthy non-industrial groups he studied had a much higher intake of these fat-soluble, animal-derived vitamins than more modern cultures.
Price found an inverse correlation between the levels of K2 in butter and mortality from cardiovascular disease and pneumonia in a number of different regions. A recent study examined the relationship between K2 (MK-4 through 10) consumption and heart attack risk in 4,600 Dutch men. They found a strong inverse association between K2 consumption and heart attack mortality risk. Men with the highest K2 consumption had a whopping 51% lower risk of heart attack mortality and a 26% lower risk of death from all causes compared to men eating the least K2! Their sources of K2 MK-4 were eggs, meats and dairy. They obtained MK-5 through MK-10 from fermented foods and fish. The investigators found no association with K1, the form found in plants.
Perigord, France is the world’s capital of foie gras, or fatty goose liver. Good news for the bon vivants: foie gras turns out to be the richest known source of K2. Perigord also has the lowest rate of cardiovascular mortality in France, a country already noted for its low CVD mortality.
Rats fed warfarin, a drug that inhibits K2 recycling, develop arterial calcification. Feeding the rats K2 completely inhibits this effect. Mice lacking matrix Gla protein (MGP), a vitamin K-dependent protein that guards against arterial calcification, develop heavily calcified aortas and die prematurely. So the link between K2 and cardiovascular disease is a very strong one.
Mammals can synthesize K2 MK-4 from K1 to some degree, so dietary K1 and other forms of vitamin K may contribute to K2 MK-4 status.
The synergism Weston Price observed between vitamins A, D and K2 now has a solid mechanism. In a nutshell, vitamins A and D signal the production of some very important proteins, and K2 is required to activate them once they are made. Many of these proteins are involved in mineral metabolism, thus the effects Price saw in his experiments and observations in non-industrialized cultures. For example, osteocalcin is a protein that organizes calcium and phosphorus deposition in the bones and teeth. It’s produced by cells in response to vitamins A and D, but requires K2 to perform its function. This suggests that the effects of vitamin D on bone health could be amplified greatly if it were administered along with K2. By itself, K2 is already highly protective against fractures in the elderly. It works out perfectly, since K2 also protects against vitamin D toxicity.
I’m not going to go through all the other data on K2 in detail, but suffice it to say it’s very very important. I believe that K2 is a ‘missing link’ that explains many of our modern ills, just as Weston Price wrote. Here are a few more tidbits to whet your appetite: K2 may affect glucose control and insulin release (1, 2). It’s concentrated in the brain, serving an as yet unknown function.
Hunter-gatherers didn’t have multivitamins, they had nutrient-dense food. As long as you eat a natural diet containing some vegetables and some animal products, and lay off the processed grains, sugar and vegetable oil, the micronutrients will take care of themselves.
Vitamin K2, MK-4 is only found in animal products. The best sources known are grass-fed butter from cows eating rapidly growing grass, and foie gras. K2 tends to associate with beta-carotene in butter, so the darker the color, the more K2 it contains (also, the better it tastes). Fish eggs, other grass-fed dairy, shellfish, insects and other organ meats are also good sources. Chris Masterjohn compiled a list of food sources in his excellent article on the Weston Price foundation website. I highly recommend reading it if you want more detail. K2 MK-7 is found abundantly in natto, a type of fermented soybean, and it may be partially converted to MK-4.
Finally, you can also buy K2 supplements. The best one is butter oil, the very same stuff Price used to treat his patients. I have used this one personally, and I noticed positive effects on my skin overnight. Thorne research makes a synthetic liquid K2 MK-4 supplement that is easy to dose drop-wise to get natural amounts of it. Other K2 MK-4 supplements are much more concentrated than what you could get from food so I recommend avoiding them. I am generally against supplements, but I’ve ordered the Thorne product for a little self-experimentation. I want to see if it has the same effect on my skin as the butter oil (update- it does).