Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Nutrition Debate #231: Vitamin K-2 and Insulin Sensitivity


Weston A. Price called it “Activator X,” and for lack of further research Vitamin K-2 remained a mystery for 62 years. In this article on the Weston A. Price Foundations website, Christopher Masterjohn explains, “Vitamin K2 works synergistically with the two other ‘fat-soluble activators’ that Price studied, vitamins A and D. Vitamins A and D signal to the cells to produce certain proteins and vitamin K then activates these proteins.”

Now, Vitamin K-2 supplementation is all the rage for the multiple benefits it appears to confer. This 6-year old piece, “Vitamin K-2, the Missing Nutrient,” by Chris Kresser, begins with a study of its benefit with relation to prostate cancer and is also a very good summation of its other salutary effects, including some related to type 2 diabetes.

My editor brought my current attention to Vitamin K-2 with this note: “Perhaps you saw ‘this post’ on Bernstein – a great reason to eat ghee.” The Bernstein Diabetes Forum, if you don’t know, is a diabetes help forum (registration required) at http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/34/9/e147.full. It is where I received my basic (and advanced!) education in Very Low Carb eating. It is unthreatening – indeed, it is a very friendly resource for neophytes, and a good place to hang.

It just happens that my editor also introduced me to ghee, pure 100% butter fat (“clarified” butter) and in particular to the Ancient Organics brand made from Strauss Creamery Butter. This wonderful, burnished-flavored organic ghee, while admittedly expensive, is made from the cream of grass fed cows and is undoubtedly high in vitamin K-2. Butter made from cows confined to barns and feed-lot conditions is not.

Similarly, eggs produced by hens in confined, even so-called “free range” conditions, is not going to be high in Vitamin K-2, as explained by Stephen Guyenet at Whole Health Source in this 2009 piece, “Pastured Hens.” “The reason pastured eggs are so nutritious is that the chickens get to supplement their diets with abundant fresh plants and insects. Having little doors on the side of a giant smelly barn just doesn't replicate that,” Guyenet explains. Just take a look at the comparisons between conventional and pastured eggs for Vitamins A, D and E, beta carotene and omega 3 fatty acids in the link above.

But the ‘post’ my editor referred to was this rather arcane paper in Diabetes Care, the Journal of the American Diabetes Association: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/34/9/e147.full. The title, “Vitamin K-2 Supplementation Improves Insulin Sensitivity via Osteocalcin Metabolism: A Placebo Controlled Trial.” The 2011 study was conducted by a team from the Department of Internal Medicine at the Seoul National University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea.

The “weeds”: “Undercarboxylated osteocalcin (ucOC) is reported to function as an endocrine hormone, affecting glucose metabolism in mice. Vitamin K, which converts ucOC to carboxylated osteocalcin (cOC), has been suggested to regulate glucose metabolism my modulating osteocalcin and/or proinflammatory pathway. We studied whether modulation of ucOC via vitamin K2 supplementation for 4 weeks affects ß-cell function and/or insulin sensitivity in healthy young male subjects.” So, 42 healthy young male volunteers received vitamin K-2 (menatetranome; 30mg; Eisai Co., Japan) or placebo t.i.d [three times a day] for 4 weeks. This is the MK-4 form of K-2, the short-lived artificial form of the vitamin.

“To summarize,” the researchers say, “we have demonstrated for the first time that vitamin K-2 supplementation for 4 weeks [significantly] increased insulin sensitivity in healthy young men, which seems to be related to increased cOC rather than modulation of inflammation.” Then, “We conclude that, unlike in rodents, cOC rather than ucOC, may be the endocrine hormone that increases insulin sensitivity in humans.” And, to review, vitamin K-2 is the catalyst that converts ucOC to cOC. So, vitamin K-2 is, once again, that mysterious “Activator X that synergistically works with and activates the other fat soluble vitamins and proteins.

Now, where do you get this magical stuff? Well, if you’re not eating eggs from pastured hens or ghee from grass-fed cows, you may not be getting enough K-2 to work synergistically with the other fat soluble vitamins. And, if you are trying to avoid saturated fat, you may not be getting enough of those other fat-soluble vitamins (A & D), and calcium, in the first place. Natto, the Japanese breakfast food made from fermented soy beans (an acquired taste, I’m told), is by far the best source of vitamin K-2. Hard and soft cheeses are also good sources. So are other fermented foods. And liver and other organ meats and fish eggs too. Or, if these food choices don’t appeal, you can consider supplementation.

Dr. Kate Rheaume–Bleue, in her authoritative book, "Vitamin K2 & the Calcium Paradox", recommends, that you consider supplementing with up to 200mcg (that’s micrograms) of the MK-7 form of vitamin K-2. This is the natural, long-lasting form of K-2, so the dosage is much, much smaller and needs to be taken only once a day. I haven’t read her book yet, but it is getting rave from the likes of Dr. Mercola. His interview of Dr. Kate (1hr -22 min) is worth listening to. Sample quote from the interview: “Vitamin K-2 is critical for keeping our bones strong and our arteries clear.”
For the time being (until I’ve read the book), I’m going to stick with my pastured hen’s eggs and Ancient Organics ghee.

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