Vitamin K2 – A New Perspective on Neurodegenerative Disorders

Written by Dr Tom Bayne DC, President at Microbiome Labs

Healthy nerves require a strong myelin sheath, which is the protective coating that insulates the nerves and conducts the electric signals throughout the entire nervous system. The myelin sheath is made up of fatty acids known as sphingolipids, such as ceramide, sphingomyelin, cerebroside, sulfatide, and ganglioside. The synthesis of sphingolipids is stimulated by VKDPs, or vitamin K-dependent proteins, which suggests that vitamin K2 is necessary for healthy nerves. Recent research suggests that alterations in sphingolipid metabolism can lay the foundation for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease.

Vitamin K2 can improve symptoms of neuropathy by repairing damaged nerves. Many people think of it as a single vitamin, but vitamin K is actually a group of fat-soluble vitamins that includes phylloquinones (K1), menaquinones (K2), and menadiones (K3). Plants synthesize vitamin K1, which is why it can be found in leafy green vegetables, while vitamin K2 can only be produced through bacterial fermentation.

Interestingly, gut bacteria can produce many forms of vitamin K2, the most commonly studied being menaquinone-4 (MK-4) and menaquinone-7 (MK-7). Menaquinones exist in varying lengths and can be differentiated by the number of carbon groups attached to their tail. For example, MK-4 contains four carbon groups, while MK-7 contains seven.
In the last 40 years, researchers have realized that vitamin K2 is responsible for activating, or carboxylating, vitamin K-dependent proteins (VKDPs), such as osteocalcin and matrix Gla-protein. When fully carboxylated, osteocalcin attracts calcium into the bones and teeth. Matrix Gla-protein (MGP) helps to prevent vascular calcification by pulling calcium out of soft tissues, including arteries and veins.

Without a sufficient source of vitamin K2, both osteocalcin and MGP can remain partially uncarboxylated or completely uncarboxylated, allowing calcium to deposit in the blood vessels rather than the bone, where it is needed most. As a result, vitamin K2 has been shown to be incredibly useful for conditions like atherosclerosis, vascular calcification, and osteoporosis.

The K2 Solution

Research has shown that vitamin K2 may play a critical role in the treatment and prevention of various conditions, but the fact remains that vitamin K2 is fairly elusive in the modern Western diet.

The best natural source of K2 is natto, which contains approximately 1,100 mcg of vitamin K2 in a 3.5 oz serving. However, natto is very pungent and bitter, which can make patient compliance a significant challenge.

Other good sources of vitamin K2 include goose liver, various organ meats, and soft cheeses like Gouda and Brie. These natural food sources contain vitamin K2 in its menaquinone-4 form (MK-4), which has a short half-life of roughly 4-6 hours. This means that patients would need to consume these foods every 4-6 hours in order to maintain optimal K2 levels in the blood. When considering supplementation with K2, research indicates that MK-7 is superior to MK-4 and vitamin K1 in regards to half-life, bioavailability, and safety. With more and more synthetic formulations of MK-7 entering the market, it’s also important to choose naturally-fermented forms of MK-7, as synthetic MK-7 is not as well-studied or held to the same quality standards as natural MK-7.

In conclusion, supplementation with all-natural MK-7 appears to improve nerve health through the strengthening of the myelin sheath, which has the potential to improve many neurodegenerative conditions.

References available on request.