Deficiency is certainly something we'd want to avoid, as symptoms include an inability to clot blood quickly and a decline in bone health.
But is this something animal-protein avoiders should be worried about?
We'll be looking at the likelihood of deficiency and what you need to do to avoid it in this article, but also reexamining the dominant thinking on the issue and discussing why it may be off the mark.
Where Does Vitamin K Come From, And How Much Do We Need?
Vitamin K1 and K2 come from two very different sources.
If you ever managed to be deficient in vitamin K1 (also called phylloquinone), your diet would have to be pretty SAD, to say the least.
Vegetables of many kinds contain it, but the leafy greens healthy raw foodists feast on contain it in particular abundance.
Anyone eating a reasonable amount of leafy greens will run laps around the Dietary Reference Intake set by the National Academy of Sciences's Institute Of Medicine, which is just 120 µg for men and 90 µg for women (note: this target includes both vitamin K2 and K1; no distinction is made between them).
Food Sources For Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 (also called menaquinone) on the other hand, is found in few plant foods, none of which you're likely to eat on a healthy raw food diet.
There are several fermented soy products known to contain K2 in smaller quantities, but the one with the most significant content is natto, a stinky fermented soybean product popular in Japan but almost nowhere else. I've never tried it, but a friend described it to me as smelling like a mix of ammonia and nauseating Camembert cheese and tasting even more foul.
The bacteria used to ferment the soybeans and produce natto's distinct odor and taste also produce K2 as a byproduct. It's important to understand that the soybeans don't just magically contain it like some special class different than all other plant foods, but rather that the bacteria feeding off the decomposition of the soybeans produces it.
What other foods is vitamin K2 found in? Mostly meat, eggs, and dairy, with particularly high concentrations found in organ meats. But there are abundant health reasons to avoid these and embrace raw fruits and vegetables instead.
Do We Need Vitamin K2?
There's no question that we need vitamin K in some form, but can we get by with the easily-obtainable K1?
The current prevailing scientific consensus is that either source will work just fine for all our needs (1).
Indeed, vitamin K deficiency is not common in the general adult population (4), and it's hard to even induce in a study (1).
But how about vegans? One common way to measure for vitamin K deficiency is to check blood clotting time. Vegans who eschew animal products don't appear to clot any slower than omnivores (5), so on the surface there doesn't seem to be anything to worry about.
However, a spat of research over the last few years has connected supplementing vitamin K2 and bone health, particularly among older women prone to osteoporosis (6, 7), and I think in the long run we're going to start seeing nutritional recommendations adjusted to favor intake of vitamin K2, particularly for older people.
Among vegans and raw foodists, you'll periodically hear someone say they had teeth problems which they blame on the lack of K2 in their diet. If for no other reason than because of the worry surrounding the issue, it's worth discussing.
So, even though there's currently no research showing that K2 is superior to K1 for bone health, and indeed, even though there is at least one study showing the that K1 brings about significant improvements in bone health, just like K2 (10), let's take a closer look at how K2 got inside the animals people turn to when they want more K2 so we have a wider perspective to frame the discussion.
Why Do Animal Foods Contain Vitamin K2? Do We?
People are quick to accept that animals have significant stores of vitamin K2 inside of them, and that eating parts of these animals is the best way to get it ourselves.
But why do animals have it in the first place? Many of the animals we eat are vegetarian species and so they're not getting their K2 from other animals. That means that they're synthesizing it themselves, not getting it from the outside world.
Like them, we too produce vitamin K2 internally. It's produced via the symbiotic bacteria that we host in our intestines (1, 2), and we can absorb that K2 for use in the body (9). So if we eat animal products, we're actually getting our K2 second hand.
But if we can produce vitamin K2 internally, why might we be deficient?
One likely reason is the rampant use of antibiotics and other antibacterial products among the general population. Antibiotic use devastates the colonies of beneficial bacteria in our bodies, greatly reducing their production of things like B12.
In one study, antibiotics reduced K2 production by as much as 74% (8).
In addition, there is an observed reduction in K2 production in the elderly which coincides with their increase in bone loss and osteoporosis, hinting that we may indeed by reliant on this production.
So is it possible that we don't really need additional K2, but rather that we need to start living in a way that allows our body to thrive at a high enough level for our own production of K2 to be at its best?
I think so.
Part of a rational raw food lifestyle involves questioning the status quo response to illness, and using critical thinking when we're told we should be taking antibiotics.
Should We Supplement With Vitamin K2?
Despite the current lack of evidence supporting the superiority of vitamin K2, there are going to be people out there who will worry themselves to death about it, as they will over almost every vitamin they read about on the web. In many cases, worry over a fairy low-importance issue like possible future K2 deficiency will stop them from adopting a healthy raw vegan diet that can change their life.
Additionally, for the part of the population that already has issues with their bones or teeth, the natural inclination will be to wonder if supplementing might be a wise choice.
But there's a problem with supplementing in general: it's a bit like playing Russian Roulette. The medial consensus is increasingly turning against preventative supplement use, with recent research pointing out, for instance, that the vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, beta carotene, copper and iron present in a great many multi vitamin supplements, once vaunted as the height of preventative medicine, are hazardous for our health because the body can't handle these nutrients properly when they're divorced from their nutrient packages (the whole foods they came in).
However, there is currently no research indicating that even large doses of vitamin K2 supplements are toxic or harmful in any way (11). Does this mean K2 supplements are compeltely safe? No, but there's a decent chance that they won't harm you.
I've been a vegan since 2004 and on a completely raw food diet since 2007, and so far I have no reason to suspect my lack of K2 intake is causing me problems. My teeth, for instance, are in great shape because I avoid the pitfalls raw foodists face.
I don't suggest people seek their nutrition in a pill because natural internal production or whole foods will always be superior. Labs have a poor record of beating the balance of natural systems.
However, unlike B12, we can't easily confirm if we're low on K2 via a blood test. The traditional test for vitamin K deficiency is to simply time blood clotting. But we could theoretically have sufficient vitamin K1 to pass this test while lacking K2. Because of this, it's hard to confirm that we've got an adequate supply.
So if worry over vitamin K2 is holding you back from a raw or vegan diet, or you already have some bone or teeth issues that are going to be preying on your mind, then I think there are worse things than supplementing with this situation.
If you're intent on supplementing, go with a quality brand. You're probably better off not buying from one of the "botique," vitamin dealers. Carlson Labs has a good reputation and the price is fairly reasonable.
If you fail to see an improvement in three months, then it's probably safe to say you were never deficientand you should stop supplementing.
How to adopt a raw food diet that will supercharge your life.
Learn how vitamin K2 fits in with the other nutrients people are concerned about on a raw food diet.
Do you wonder what foods are really healthy and which will only harm your health? This is what you're looking for.
Vitamin K2 and K1 Sources
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2) Furie B, Bouchard BA, Furie BC. Vitamin K-dependent biosynthesis of gamma-carboxyglutamic acid. Blood. 1999;93(6):1798-1808
3) Shearer MJ. Vitamin K. Lancet. 1995;345(8944):229-234.
4) Olson RE. Vitamin K. In: Shils M, Olson JA, Shike M, Ross AC, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 9th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1999:363-380.
5) Sanders TA, Roshanai F. Platelet phospholipid fatty acid composition and function in vegans compared with age- and sex-matched omnivore controls. Eur J Clin Nutr 1992;46:823-31.
6) "Vitamin K". Linus Pauling Institute : Accessed At: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminK/index.html
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8) Conly, J; Stein K (1994). "Reduction of vitamin K2 concentrations in human liver associated with the use of broad spectrum antimicrobials". Clinical and investigative medicine. Médecine clinique et experimentale 17 (6): 531–539. PMID 7895417.
9) Conly JM, Stein K, Worobetz L, Rutledge-Harding S. The contribution of vitamin K2 (menaquinones) produced by the intestinal microflora to human nutritional requirements for vitamin K. Am J Gastroenterol. 1994 Jun;89(6):915-23. (Abstract)
10) Stevenson M, Lloyd-Jones M, Papaioannou D. Vitamin K to prevent fractures in older women: systematic review and economic evaluation. Health Technol Assess. 2009 Sep;13(45):iii-xi, 1-134. Review.
11) Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Vitamin K. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 2001:162-196. (National Academy Press)
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