The Vitamin K/Vitamin D Connection
Supplementing can sometimes get confusing, as there are so many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients out there, and it can be frustrating trying to figure out which ones you need to add to your routine (not to mention how to add them). Vitamin D is one that most people are familiar with. Most of us have heard that we’re probably deficient in vitamin D, despite the fact that our bodies produce it in response to sun exposure.
What if I told you that much of the good that vitamin D can do for you is undone if you don’t have enough vitamin K in your system? Connections between nutrients like this are important to know about so that your efforts aren’t being wasted.
Let’s Talk a Little About Vitamin D
Just 15 minutes out in the sun (without sunscreen) is usually enough to get your daily requirement of vitamin D, though you can find it in foods too, like oily fish, butter and egg yolks. Vitamin D can support healthy weight, help fight depression, promote the development and strength of bones and teeth and prevent certain diseases. The folks at Organic Facts write that “Studies have shown that a high intake of vitamin D can reduce the risk of various types of cancers and cardiovascular diseases. It helps to protect against cancers of the prostate, lung, skin, and lymphoma.” D, a fat-soluble vitamin, helps your body to absorb and utilize calcium and phosphorous. That’s a lot of benefit for one nutrient alone, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg, vitamin D (1, 2 and 3 together) can affect as many as 2000 genes in the human body.
I’d Like to Buy a K Please, Vanna
Let’s solve the puzzle and get right to the prize that is better health. How can you get the most from your vitamin D? By also getting vitamin K. Just as vitamin D regulates your body’s ability to absorb calcium and phosphorous, vitamin K ensures that the calcium that vitamin D helps you absorb is put to proper use and doesn’t end up damaging your body.
So what does this vitamin do? In short, it ensures healthy blood clotting and supports heart health, immune system function and bone strength and development.
There are three forms of vitamin K. K3 is a synthetic version that is given to infants shortly after birth (to prevent internal bleeding in the event that the child is deficient in vitamin K). K1 is found in leafy greens, like spinach and kale. Unfortunately, this is not a source that the body is easily able to absorb, so only about 10% of it gets used. K2 is found in fermented dairy products, such as natto and kefir. This is because the bacterias that are part of the fermentation process create the K2. Despite the fact that there is less K2 in fermented dairy than there is K1 in leafy greens, the body is able to use the K2 more easily, so more of the nutrient is absorbed from this source.
According to Wellness Mama “Interestingly, studies have shown great health and cardiovascular benefits from K2, but hardly any effect from K1. K1 is necessary for proper blood clotting and is used by the liver, while K2 benefits the bones and controls proper utilization of calcium. In fact, it is helpful to think of them as two separate nutrients with different purposes.” Now that you know where to find the vitamin K that your body needs, let’s talk about the connection between vitamins K and D.
As we’ve noted above, vitamin D is essential for regulating your body’s absorption of calcium. Vitamin K is responsible for routing the calcium to where it is needed in the body, so that it doesn’t go where it shouldn’t, like your organs and arteries. Keoni Teta of MetabolicEffect.com explains it like this, “There is some overlap with the physiological roles of vit K and D; however the easiest way to remember their roles in relationship to bone health is the following: Vit D helps take calcium from the gut to blood and Vit K helps to direct calcium away from soft tissues while directing it to the bone.” Vitamin K activates a hormone that helps the calcium to bind to the bone so that it doesn’t turn into a calcification in the soft tissue or calcium deposits that block up and harden your arteries. In this way, the combination of vitamin D and vitamin K not only ensure that your calcium gets to the bones and ensures they are strong and healthy, but it also prevents heart problems, organ issues and disease.
Dr. Mercola has another interesting way of thinking about this connection: “You can think of vitamin D as the gatekeeper, controlling who gets in, and vitamin K as the traffic cop, directing the traffic to where it needs to go. Lots of traffic — but no traffic cop — means clogging, crowding, and chaos everywhere! In other words, without the help of vitamin K2, the calcium that your vitamin D so effectively lets in might be working AGAINST you — by building up your coronary arteries rather than your bones. There is even evidence that the safety of vitamin D is dependent on vitamin K, and that vitamin D toxicity (although very rare with the D3 form) is actually caused by vitamin K2 deficiency.” This is another great reason to ensure you are using vitamins D and K together. Too much of one without any of the other will cause problems with the calcium in your system and you’ll also be experiencing deficiency symptoms due to the missing vitamin.
Getting the right nutrition can be a fine balance, and even trying to be educated on the topic can be difficult with all the misinformation floating around. Try not to get too caught up on nutrition fads, and remember that a varied and balanced diet combined with exercise and healthy exposure to sunlight (after those 15 minutes are up, don’t forget to put on sunscreen!) and fresh air is the only true path to wellness. Supplements can be a great way to boost your intake of certain hard to find or hard to absorb nutrients, but they are not a substitute for a healthy overall lifestyle.
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