You’ve probably heard of Vitamin K before. It is a nutrient that our body needs, not only to stay healthy but also plays a huge role in blood clotting and the formation of strong healthy bones. Did you know that Vitamin K actually comes in two forms, namely Vitamin K1 aka phylloquinone and Vitamin K2 aka menaquinone? Unlike phylloquinone, menaquinone is the lesser known form of these two compounds but it has slowly been gaining more attention because of the numerous health benefits of Vitamin K2. If you’d like to know more about Vitamin K2 benefits, the food sources to help you get more of it, and much more, keep reading!
What Is Vitamin K2?
Before getting into vitamin k2 benefits and its side effects – if any -, what exactly is this nutrient?
As previously mentioned, vitamin k2 is one of the two main forms of the fat-soluble nutrient known as Vitamin K. Also scientifically known as menaquinone, Vitamin K2 is further divided into subtypes classified as MK-4 through MK-13. It should be noted that the subtypes MK-4 and MK-7 are the most important of all the subtypes to human beings.
Vitamin K2 is usually found in animal based and fermented foods as well as in your gut bacteria. Vitamin K1 on the other hand is naturally found in dark leafy green vegetables and is also the main dietary source of vitamin K (16).
Specific food sources that help increase the amount of Vitamin K2 in your diet include (15, 13)
- Natto – A traditional Japanese dish made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus natto. Natto has the highest amount of this nutrient, especially the MK-7 subtype.
- Dairy Products – They are the 2nd richest source of this nutrient. Hard cheeses are especially good as they are said to have the highest amounts of menaquinones. Butter is also a good option.
- Eggs especially the yolks
- Sauerkraut – Basically fermented cabbage
- Chicken meat
- Beef meat and the liver. Minced meat is also a good source of Vitamin K2
- Pork Liver
- Eel – It has the highest concentration of this nutrient at 63.1 μg per 100 g.
- Other fish such as mackerel, plaice, prawns, and salmon. They are not as high in Vitamin K2 like eel, but they are still good to have in your diet.
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What Are The Health Benefits Of Vitamin K2?
Unlike the benefits of Vitamin K that as a whole are relatively well known, the benefits of the compound menaquinone are not as well known or appreciated. Here are some reasons why you should be keen to add this nutrient to your diet – especially since it’s very deficient in the Western diet.
May Improve Heart Health
Vitamin K is known to help improve cardiovascular and heart health. Several studies have shown that this benefit could be highly attributed to Vitamin K2 and not Vitamin K1.
- A review published in the Open Heart journal in 2021, revealed that this nutrient is essential in cardiovascular health as it regulates calcium homeostasis in the body (18).
While calcium is good for the body – it helps with bone and tooth health among other uses – when left unchecked, can lead to heart problems. When the body has too much calcium it is deposited in the arteries where it calcifies and blocks the flow of blood.
- A study following over 4,800 participants and spanning about a decade found that study participants who had the highest intakes of dietary menaquinone were 52 percent less likely to develop artery calcification.
Researchers also found that these people had a 57 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease. An interesting factor to note is that Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone) had no relation to any of these outcomes (2).
- Another study published in the Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases journal in 2009 also showed that Vitamin K2 was more beneficial than vitamin K1 in the prevention of heart disease.
The study that spanned about 4 years and followed over 16,000 women found that the women who had the highest intake levels of menaquinones, especially MK-7, MK-8 and MK-9 had a lower risk of heart disease. Every 10 mcg of K2 they consumed per day reduced their risk of coronary heart disease by 9 percent (1).
- Another review looking at the use of calcium and Vitamin K2 in bone and cardiovascular health stated that this nutrient is essential in heart health as it helps prevent calcium from being deposited in blood vessels (11).
Improves Bone Health
As stated above, this nutrient plays a huge role in how calcium is used and processed on the body. Aside from preventing the harmful accumulation of calcium in the body, Vitamin K2 also helps this nutrient bind itself to your bones. It does this by activating matrix GLA protein and osteocalcin – two proteins that help bind calcium (21).
Several studies have also shown that menaquinones – specifically MK-4 has great effects on bone health
- A 9-week study done on 29 postmenopausal women who suffered hip or vertebral compression fractures. Researchers found that taking just 5 mg/day of MK-4 reduced their undercarboxylated osteocalcin levels to concentrations typical of healthy, pre-menopausal women (10).
- Another 3 year study on the supplementation of Vitamin K2 (this time using MK-7) revealed this nutrient significantly decreased age-related bone mineral density in healthy postmenopausal women (14).
- A review of 13 long term studies done on the supplement of this vitamin on Japanese patients revealed that this vitamin helps reduce spinal, hip and non-spinal fractures by 60, 77, and 81 percent respectively (20).
- In a very recent review published in the Frontiers in Public Health, researchers looked at 16 studies with over 6,400 participants.
Researchers found that the supplementation of Vitamin K2 indirectly promotes bone mineralization and increases bone strength through the improvement and maintenance of bone mineral density levels as well as the reduction of fracture incidence and serum undercarboxylated osteocalcin levels in the body (6).
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May Reduce The Risk Of Cancer
Two studies done on hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) patients revealed that this nutrient helped reduce the recurrence of this disease and also increased the survival times of these patients (12, 3).
Reduces The Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
In a review published in the Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice journal in 2017, researchers proposed the use of vitamin K2 in the prevention of type 2 diabetes as they realized it helped improve insulin sensitivity, has anti inflammatory effects and also lipid lowering effects (5).
Another study looking at Vitamin K2 and D3 benefits and effects found that the individual or combined supplementation with vitamins D3 and K2 significantly decreases the glucose levels and percentage of functional pancreatic beta cells, while D3 and D3 + K2 treatments also induced a reduction in the undercarboxylated to carboxylated osteocalcin index. Only in the group with vitamin D3 supplementation was a reduction in undercarboxylated osteocalcin observed while vitamin K2 increased the carboxylated osteocalcin levels (4).
May Improve Skin Elasticity And Reduce Wrinkles
Vitamin K2 skin benefits are tied to the VK2 dependent matrix-GLA protein and elastin. Basically, elastin is a stretchy protein found in the body. It resembles a rubber band and it helps the tissues and organs stretch and contract.
Like with many nutrients in the body, however, too much elastin can calcify – this is where the matrix-GLA protein comes in. Matrix-GLA protein indirectly prevents the calcification of elastin. For the matrix-GLA protein to work, it needs to be activated by Vitamin K2.
So without vitamin k2 to activate the matrix-GLA protein, elastin will calcify in the body, which can very well lead to premature aging (9), wrinkling and other skin issues.
How Much Vitamin K2 Per Day?
Unfortunately there is no scientific consensus on how much Vitamin K2 one should take a day. Some sources claim that
- When using this nutrient for therapeutic purposes for illnesses such as osteopenia, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, arterial calcification then a dosage of 45 mg/day is recommended (17).
- Others claim that a daily dosage of 100 mcg/day is okay although higher dosages are okay. This source dealt with patients of diabetes mellitus (17).
With findings like these it is hard to say how much of this nutrient the average healthy adult (or even child) should be taking a day.
As for now we agree with the conclusions made in a review published in the Nutrients Journal in 2020. More research needs to be done on this specific vitamin to determine the best dosage (19).
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What Are The Benefits Of Vitamin K2 For Men?
This nutrient is important for anyone regardless of gender. However, if we were to look at vitamin K2 benefits for men specifically we would say it is the prevention of liver cancer.
Drinking alcohol is one of the main causes of liver cancer and according to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not only do men drink more than women but they are also more likely to binge drink and develop an alcohol use disorder (7).
Statistics of estimated liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer cases in 2023 by the American Cancer Society also showed that men are more likely to not only be diagnosed with but also die from these cancers (8).
As seen in the benefits section above, studies have shown that this nutrient prevents the recurrence of liver cancer and increases survival rates of liver cancer patients. While eating more vitamin K2 foods alone might not fully reduce the risk of this illness – you have to regulate your drinking too, or stop completely – it is still a step in the right direction.
What Does Vitamin K2 Do For You?
As seen above, this nutrient can help improve your heart health, reduce the incidence of fractures, improve bone density and health, reduce the risk and recurrence of liver cancer, improve skin elasticity, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The Bottom Line: Is Vitamin K2 Good For You?
Yes, it is. Vitamin K2 benefits prove that this forgotten nutrient is one that we all need to have more in our diet, especially since it’s severely lacking in the Western diet. Make sure to stock your pantry and fridge with good sources of this nutrient including fermented foods, organ meats, and dairy products.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A high menaquinone intake reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease (2009, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: the Rotterdam Study (2004, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of menatetrenone, a vitamin k2 analog, on recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma after surgical resection: a prospective randomized controlled trial (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of supplementation with vitamins D3 and K2 on undercarboxylated osteocalcin and insulin serum levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial (2020, dmsjournal.biomedcentral.com)
- Effect of vitamin K2 on type 2 diabetes mellitus: A review (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Efficacy of vitamin K2 in the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (2022, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Excessive Alcohol Use is a Risk to Men’s Health (2022, cdc.gov)
- Key Statistics About Liver Cancer (2023, cancer.org)
- Matrix Gla protein is involved in elastic fiber calcification in the dermis of pseudoxanthoma elasticum patients (2007, nature.com)
- Maximal dose-response of vitamin-K2 (menaquinone-4) on undercarboxylated osteocalcin in women with osteoporosis (2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effect of menatetrenone, a vitamin K2 analog, on disease recurrence and survival in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma after curative treatment: a pilot study (2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The health benefits of vitamin K (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Three-year low-dose menaquinone-7 supplementation helps decrease bone loss in healthy postmenopausal women (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Vitamin K: Double Bonds beyond Coagulation Insights into Differences between Vitamin K1 and K2 in Health and Disease (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Vitamin K (2021, ods.od.nih.gov)
- Vitamin K2 (n.d., sciencedirect.com)
- Vitamin K2-a neglected player in cardiovascular health: a narrative review (2021, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Vitamin K2 Needs an RDI Separate from Vitamin K1 (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Vitamin K and the Prevention of Fractures: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (2006, jamanetwork.com)
- Vitamin K Deficiency (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)