What’s the #1 email I receive? From vegan nursing mothers. What to do about their cavities, or their infant’s crumbling teeth…
Mom Kai S. writes:
“Dear Val — I have been vegan for several years, maybe 10, and vegetarian for thirty. I am now 46.
My teeth started to decay pretty severely over the past couple of years after my second baby. … I don’t eat any refined sugars. We don’t eat any white flour products. We eat only organic whenever possible and I drink a green smoothie every day.
However, my teeth are a mess. … I have a cavity in almost every tooth. … I am confused, as is my dentist. He said normally someone with teeth like this is a soda drinker. … Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!”
Sadly, back in the 1990’s I never knew what to reply! Now I do, with gratitude to naturopath Dr. Kate in Canada:
“I believe you and your child are suffering from vitamin K2 deficiency.”
Thank you to Dr. Kate Rhéaume-Bleue for publishing her book Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little-Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life (#ad) in 2013.
The Calcium Paradox
Do you ever wonder why in the US, 55% of women and men aged 50 and older suffer from osteoporosis or low bone mass?
Yet at the same time, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the US? 75–95% of men and women have some degree of coronary artery calcification on autopsy.
Actually that calcified plaque is often fully formed bone tissue!
Did you know, women who take calcium to prevent osteoporosis are at higher risk of atherosclerosis (calcium plaque in their arteries), heart attack, and stroke than those who don’t?
In fact, if you take a calcium supplement, the increased risk of death from heart disease outweighs any benefit to bone health.
How do we reverse that? Persuade the calcium to go into our bones and teeth, and out of our arteries?
In 1945 one dentist knew the answer. He was the founder of the American Dental Association’s research division.
But after his death, scientists bungled the research for decades.
History of Vitamin K2
The solution to the Calcium Paradox is a single vitamin — K2 or Menaquinone.
Vitamin K1 is Phylloquinone. K1 (and its clotting effect) was discovered in 1929. The K in vitamin K is derived from the German word koagulation.
For a long time scientists thought K1 and K2 were variants of a single molecule, and called them both vitamin K.
Only in the late 1990’s did a growing body of research show that K1 and K2 are two different vitamins performing totally different functions. Just like the B vitamins are different. If you confuse B12 with B3 (niacin) your brain will be at risk of B12 deficiency!
K1 is needed for blood clotting. K2 is needed to shuttle calcium to all the places where you want it, and away from where you don’t want it. It also protects your brain from early senility!
Back in the 1930’s, the late Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist famous for his cross-cultural studies, discovered a “vitamin-like activator” that protects us from tooth decay and heart disease, and promotes healthy bone growth, brain function, and reproduction.
Dr. Price called it “Activator X.” Today we know it to be vitamin K2 — thanks to the brilliant paper of Dr. Chris Masterjohn.
Yet it took another sixty years before the USDA calculated the vitamin K2 (Menaquinone) content of foods, in 2006.
How K2 Works: for the Scientist In You
Several proteins move calcium around in your body. The one most abundant in bone is osteocalcin (also called bone Gla protein or BGP). It fixes calcium into your bones and teeth.
Another calcium-mover, MGP (matrix Gla protein) sweeps calcium out of soft tissue like arteries, veins, and the million tiny filters in your kidneys.
A single enzyme activates both proteins. It’s called vitamin K–dependent carboxylase.
Each protein is born with a single claw sticking out, a carboxyl group. The enzyme carboxylase adds a second claw (another carboxyl group) to the protein. It “carboxylates” the protein.
That’s easy to remember, isn’t it? Carboxylase carboxylates a protein by adding a carboxyl group to it. So now your two proteins (osteocalcin and MGP) no longer have only one claw each, the way they were made by your cells. After they’re carboxylated they each have two claws looking like this:
Do you see how the protein goes from one claw on the left, to two claws on the right? When carboxylase (in the middle) acts on it.
The two claws are negatively charged. Calcium has two positive charges — do you see the Ca(+2) at the top? So naturally the claws grab the calcium! You would too, if you were a negative, and a positive came floating by.
Osteocalcin’s two claws snap up calcium and take it into your bones and teeth. Osteocalcin is the second most abundant protein in bone, after collagen.
Here’s the tricky part. You know that every enzyme has a helper molecule, a cofactor? Who’s our little helper for the enzyme carboxylase? You guessed it — Vitamin K2!
If there’s no K2 to switch carboxylase on, then that enzyme can’t add a claw to any K2-dependent protein.
—Beware: here we swim deeper—
- The claw is called a “side chain” by scientists. Each chain carries one carboxyl group.
- You’ve seen how a protein is a string of amino acids, like a string of pearls? Well, this side chain hangs from only one specific amino acid in a K2-dependent protein. That amino’s name is glutamate or glutamic acid, abbreviated Glu.
- It’s not just one claw on each protein. There could be up to 13 Glu’s in one protein molecule. Hence 13 single claws sticking out. But each claw must be carboxylated into a double claw before it can grab calcium.
- The full name (first and last) of the enzyme carboxylase that’s doing all the work here, is gamma-glutamyl carboxylase (?-glutamyl carboxylase).
- By adding a carboxyl group (another claw) to glutamate, this enzyme transforms glutamate into gamma-carboxyglutamate (?-carboxyglutamate) abbreviated Gla.
- In short, 1-claw-Glu becomes 2-claw-Gla.
- That’s why many vitamin K-dependent proteins have “Gla” in their name.
- And why vitamin K2’s chief known action in your body is called gamma-carboxylation.
Both vitamins K1 and K2 are good at switching on the enzyme carboxylase. They are “effective cofactors.”
However, your liver prefers to use K1 to activate the K-dependent blood-clotting proteins.
Your other tissues, such as bone, cartilage, blood vessels & arteries, prefer to use K2 to activate all the other K-dependent proteins like osteocalcin and MGP.
For us plebs who don’t aspire to be Einstein, we see it like this:
- An enzyme turns one claw (that’s sticking out of a protein)
- into two claws
- when K2 switches the enzyme on
- so the two claws can grab calcium
- and the protein is functional (does its job of moving calcium around).
If the claw is single, it’s called “under-carboxylated” or “inactive.” If it’s a double claw, it’s “carboxylated” or “activated.”
|State of Protein||Indicates||Results In||Add K2 to Diet or Supplement|
|MGP and Osteocalcin are Inactive (undercarboxylated)||Vitamin K2 deficiency (low levels)||Calcium buildup in your arteries & kidney filters; porous fragile bones & hip fractures||Reduces the levels of Inactive MGP & Osteocalcin. Good response within days.|
|MGP and Osteocalcin are Activated (carboxylated)||Vitamin K2 sufficiency (good levels)||(with a healthy lifestyle) clean clear arteries & kidneys; strong bones & teeth||Protects you from heart disease and fractures.|
Japanese trials have proven that vitamin K2 completely reverses bone loss, and increases bone density even when you have osteoporosis.
Pooled evidence of seven Japanese trials show that supplementing with vitamin K2 results in a 60% reduction in vertebral fractures and an 80% reduction in non-vertebral fractures, such as hip. Wow! That’s my kind of vitamin!
In 2006 Knapen et al. clearly showed that vitamin K2 is essential for keeping bones strong in postmenopausal women. K2 improves bone mineral content and femoral neck width.
Dr. William Davis writes [I’m citing him & not the study he refers to because the abstract makes no mention of this] that vitamin K2:
“improves bone architecture, increases bone mass and mechanical strength, stimulates mineralization (deposition of calcium), and enhances collagen architecture–a cross-linking of fibrous tissue that yields tough but supple bone that is more resistant to fracture.”
One caveat: if you know anyone with osteoporosis, they can’t just pop a K2 pill to heal. It’s a lifestyle disease. It requires a lifestyle change.
Meanwhile, the 10-year Rotterdam study in 2004 of 4,807 men aged 55 or older, showed that those who eat the most vitamin K2 have a 52% reduced risk of arterial calcification.
Vitamin K2 Deficiency Is Universal
Either you’re eating K2. Then you have activated osteocalcin and MGP — both doing a good job of clawing onto calcium and moving it to where it belongs.
Or you lack K2. Then you see inactive osteocalcin and MGP floating around in your blood, their one little claw flailing helplessly by itself. Calcium is left free to settle in your soft flexible tissues first, such as your heart valve and arteries.
Measuring your level of inactive osteocalcin is a handy way to test for K2 deficiency. Your osteoblasts (bone cells) merrily make osteocalcin but there’s no K2 around to whip it into action.
Do you supplement with vitamin D? This vitamin triggers your bone cells to make even more osteocalcin, which in turn increases the demand for K2.
We’re all suffering from massive K2 deficiency. If we weren’t, we’d have clean arteries and strong bones. What happened to our K2?
In the early 1940’s, we invented the combine harvester. The price of grain plummeted. As a result, factory farming was born. Now we could keep animals caged inside and feed them grain, rather than let them out to pasture to feed on grass.
The cream and butter (churned-up cream) of grass-feeding animals is rich in vitamin K2. Mother cow converts the K1 in grass, into K2 for her milk, to build the rapidly-growing bones of her calf. The quicker the grass is growing, as in Spring, the more K1 it sports.
Have you ever kept chickens? Then you know how they love their leafy greens! Their egg yolks are rich in K2, to help their baby chick grow strong. You won’t find any K2 in an egg from a battery hen. Sadly, they’ve never known the pleasure of rushing to a cauliflower leaf.
Where do you find the vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) in grass and leafy greens? It’s in the chloroplast, that little organelle in green plant and algal cells which contains chlorophyll. K1 participates in photosynthesis.
K1 is abundant in green leafy vegetables. The “phyll” in its name, phylloquinone, comes from the Greek word for leaf. Actually K1 is ubiquitous in all fruit and vegetables, albeit in small amounts. Plus we recycle K1, whereas we don’t recycle K2. You’re almost guaranteed not to be K1 deficient, unless you have liver disease.
K1’s job is to activate a protein in the liver that’s responsible for blood clotting. Nature does not want you bleeding to death. So it makes sure the vitamin is always available when needed.
But you don’t get so lucky with K2! It was so abundant in our diet for so long. A 160,000 years ago, early Homo sapiens were eating eggs and the organs of small mammals like rats (both sources of K2) and shellfish, rich in Omega-3 for our human brain.
In the few years since the 1940’s Nature hasn’t had time to create an alternative for us. And well She should not! Factory farming is an abomination.