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What is Vitamin K2?

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that comes in different forms with vitamin K1 being the most common form. Most nutrition supplements containing vitamin K, come in the form of vitamin K1.

Although the most common form has been vitamin K1, research over the past decade is shedding light on the importance of vitamin K2 and how it supports important body functions differently than vitamin K1. Due to this emerging research, it may be important to consider how much vitamin K2 your child is receiving from their diet and if you should consider increasing their intake of vitamin K2. 

Are Vitamin K1 and Vitamin K2 the same?

Although vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 are both important forms of vitamin K, it has been well established that they support different functions within the body and are both necessary for overall health.  

Vitamin K1 is known as a phylloquinone and is well known for its role in clotting the blood.   Vitamin K1 does most of its job within the liver.  

Vitamin K2 is a menaquinone and comes in multiple subtypes including MK-4, MK-7, MK-8 and MK-9.  Vitamin K2 acts mostly outside of the liver, allowing it to perform different bodily functions than vitamin K1.  Vitamin K2 in the form of MK-7 has been shown to have a role in improving outcomes without side effects in certain medical conditions: 

  • Osteoporosis – occurs when bones become brittle and fragile due to loss of tissue
  • Atherosclerosis – the build-up of plaque in the artery walls
  • Cancer – happens when abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues
  • Inflammatory diseases the immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s own cells or tissues causing abnormal inflammation 

Because vitamin K2 is produced by certain types of bacteria, some vitamin K2 can be produced by the bacteria in the human gut.  However, studies have shown this type of production does not provide enough vitamin K2 to meet our body’s needs.  Therefore, we are required to get adequate vitamin K2 from our diet or supplements. 

What are Common Food Sources of Vitamin K2?

Vitamin K1 is commonly found in vegetable oils and leafy greens such as spinach or kale.  Most Americans eat adequate amounts of vitamin K1 in their diet.  

In contrast, vitamin K2 is produced by certain bacteria, so it is commonly found in fermented foods.  The most common food source of vitamin K2 is natto, a fermented soybean product that is regularly consumed in certain areas of Japan.  Vitamin K2 is also found in some fermented cheeses such as pecorino, muenster, and camembert.  It is also found in some meats and seafood such as beef liver and eel.  Many parents will find that the food sources containing higher amounts of vitamin K2 may be difficult to find in the US and even more difficult to encourage a young child to eat.  This can make it very hard to obtain adequate amounts of vitamin K2 from the diet, especially in younger children.  

Reasons Children May be at Risk for Compromised Bone Health

For a variety of reasons, children with GI and Allergy disorders are often at risk for poor bone health.  Some common reasons include:

  • Medications that cause bone loss or increase the risk of breaking a bone
  • Diets that eliminate foods which provide the vitamins and minerals that support healthy bones
  • Impaired or reduced absorption of important vitamins and minerals in the gut

Vitamin K2 is better absorbed than vitamin K1 and is also more fully absorbed when consumed with fat.  Like most fat-soluble vitamins, absorption of vitamin K2 can be affected by various factors.  Some of the most common things that affect its absorption are low fat diets, fat blocking supplements, medications, and GI or liver diseases that affect absorption of various vitamin and minerals. 

How does Vitamin K2 Support Bone Health?

Many people know that consuming adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D and getting plenty of exercise are important for keeping your bones healthy.  What some may not know is that adding vitamin K2 may further support healthy bones.

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Vitamin K2 supports bone health by activating osteocalcin, known as a vitamin K-dependent protein, which helps to direct and bind calcium to the bones.  Some studies have shown that supplementation of vitamin K2 decreased the incidence of fractures and was an effective treatment in osteoporosis.  Another study showed that vitamin K2 slowed bone loss and a decrease of bone mineral density in patients consuming medications -glucocorticoids- known to adversely affect bone health.   

What is the Right Amount of Vitamin K2?

As with most vitamin and minerals, Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for vitamin K vary by age and gender.   The chart below shows the Adequate Intakes (AI) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.  The numbers listed are for vitamin K as a whole and do not list recommendations for intake of vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 separately.

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Although there is no established intake for vitamin K2, there are some research studies that show the effectiveness and safety of its consumption.  One study showed that when healthy, prepubertal children consumed 45 mcg per day of vitamin K2, in the form of an MK-7 supplement, they had an improved vitamin K status with no side effects.  Additional studies have shown MK-7 supplemented at levels as high as 360 mcg per day to be well tolerated in adults with no toxic effects.  

In addition to the research, MK-7 has received a GRAS status by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  GRAS is the acronym for Generally Recognized as Safe.  It is important to note that no upper limits (ULs) have been established for vitamin K2 and the FNB stated in their report that “no adverse effects associated with vitamin K consumption from food or supplements have been reported in humans or animals.”  More studies will be needed to determine the exact recommended dosing of vitamin K2 so it is recommended to discuss intake levels with your child’s healthcare provider.

How Can Essential Care Jr. Help?

Because of its low consumption in the American diet, vitamin K2 was added to Essential Care Jr. to improve intake and support optimized bone health.  In fact, Essential Care Jr. is the only hypoallergenic amino acid-based formula designed for children over the age of one year that contains vitamin K2.  Every 8 ounces of Essential Care Jr. provides 12 mcg of MK-7 in addition to other nutrients that promote optimized bone health.  If you think your child could benefit from the nutrients provided by Essential Care Jr., contact us for a sample today by visiting us online or by calling 1-833-377-2773.