Optimizing Your Levels of This Vitamin Can Improve Skin and Eliminate Wrinkles
When early 20th century author George Orwell famously remarked, “By age 50, you have the face you deserve,” he never anticipated that advances in 21st century nutritional science would be able to dramatically impact skin aging.
Skin is a complex organ that serves as a major sensory gateway and protective barrier to the outer environment. The aging of your skin not only affects how old you look, but also exposes you to significant health risks from bacteria, solar radiation, defective permeability to topical drugs and increased susceptibility to contact dermatitis from environmental chemicals. In addition, you need your skin to be at its functional best to properly regulate body temperature, synthesize optimal amounts of vitamin D, and to provide critical sensory input from the environment.
Fortunately, there’s a vitamin that can help you “put your best face forward.” That vitamin is a form of vitamin K known as K2, or menaquinone. A long-overlooked health benefit of vitamin K2 is its role in promoting and supporting healthy, more youthful-looking skin by preventing wrinkling and premature aging. Although wrinkles are an inevitable fact of aging, the laugh lines and crow’s feet that tend to increase after age 50 could actually suggest serious underlying health problems. Vitamin K2 plays an important dual role in delaying the onset of wrinkles and in preventing the health problems that cause them.
K2: The Beauty Secret of Japanese Women
Population studies of Asian women suggest that skin wrinkles may actually indicate the presence of underlying disease processes in the body. For example, Japanese women have fewer wrinkles and less skin sagging than women of the same age living in North America; they also have much lower rates of osteoporosis. Researchers now suspect one reason may be due to their intake of natto, a fermented soybean paste exceptionally rich in vitamin K2.
When researchers compared natto-eating Japanese women living in Tokyo with women from Shanghai and Bangkok, where natto consumption is uncommon, the Japanese women showed the least visible signs of aging. The diet and lifestyle factors for these three Asian groups of women are comparable except for one notable exception: the consumption of natto in Japan. Natto is loaded with menaquinones (bioactive forms of vitamin K2), and accordingly, blood samples of the Tokyo women reveal high circulating levels of this fat-soluble vitamin.
Vitamin K2 provides a powerful means to prevent calcification of elastin in the skin. Elastin is a protein that imparts skin elasticity, helping to smooth out wrinkles. K2 is required for activation of matrix proteins that prevent calcium from being deposited in elastin fibers, which leads to leathery texture and wrinkles. More evidence of vitamin K’s role in promoting more youthful-looking skin come from studies that show that people who cannot metabolize vitamin K end up with severe premature skin wrinkling.
Bone Health: A New Wrinkle in Skin Care
Studies have found an independent correlation between skin thickness and bone density, suggesting that these events occur simultaneously. As a result, skin appearance and premature wrinkling due to thinning skin represent a simple, non-invasive way to identify women and men who are at risk of low bone density that may require early treatment.
A recent study found that Brazilian women in their 40s and 50s who have extensive skin wrinkling are much more likely than their peers to have low bone mass. The study’s investigators uncovered a relationship between wrinkles and bone density in the hip, heel, and lumbar spine. This relationship held up regardless of age or amount of body fat.
International studies have shown that skin thickness does not vary with ethnicity, however, it does significantly vary with a number of parameters including age, body weight, hormone replacement therapy and corticosteroid use. Studies have shown a statistically significant correlation between the variation in skin thickness on the backs of the hands of adult women and the variation in bone mineral density at the lumbar spine and the femur, irrespective of the other risk factors. This finding agrees with results from other similar studies, supporting the hypothesis that loss of bone minerals that occurs in parallel with skin aging are due to the breakdown of collagen in these organs.
Recent studies have linked vitamin K2 to the elasticity of skin in patients suffering from pseudoxanthoma elasticum, an inherited condition resulting in severe wrinkling of the skin on the face and body. This severe loss of elastic qualities is due to the calcification of the elastic fibers. These studies suggest that vitamin K2 is involved, in some capacity, in maintaining the skin’s elastic qualities. Such findings add to an increasing body of research supporting the effects of nutritional intake and supplements of vitamin K2.
Are You Getting Enough K2?
Most Americans may find the pungent odor and taste of natto unappetizing, or may have never heard of natto, which makes it unlikely that they will be able to consume the high level of vitamin K2 found in the native Japanese diet. As a result, American women tend to experience skin wrinkling sooner and more extensively than native Japanese women. Accordingly, most Americans will experience higher rates of health problems related to inadequate vitamin K2 intake, including cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, diabetes, osteoporosis and varicose veins. Studies show that 90% of Americans may be deficient in this anti-wrinkle and disease-fighting nutrient.
Understanding the Different Forms of Vitamin K
A popular misconception is that vitamins K1 and K2 are simply different forms of the same vitamin that perform identical physiological functions. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are two biologically important forms of vitamin K that make up the vitamin K family: Vitamin K1, also known as phylloquinone or phytomenadione, and vitamin K2, which has several subtypes known collectively as menaquinones. Vitamin K1, which is synthesized by plants, can be found in such green leafy vegetables as kale, lettuce, broccoli and spinach. The K1 form makes up about 90 percent of the vitamin in the ordinary American diet. The K2 forms of the vitamin (menaquinone-4 known as MK-4 and menaquinone-7 known as MK-7) make up only 10 percent of the total U.S. vitamin K intake.
What Foods Are Rich in Vitamin K2
Unlike the other fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D and E), vitamin K is not stored in the body. Despite a small amount of synthesis of vitamin K2 by healthy intestinal bacteria, humans can develop a deficiency of the vitamin in as few as seven days on a vitamin K-deficient diet. Menaquinones are found in fermented foods such as cheese, curd and sauerkraut. Natto contains very high levels of MK-7. The blood coagulation effect of MK-7 is greater and longer lasting than MK-4 and vitamin K1. MK-4 is the only form of the vitamin that can be produced in human tissues, where it is formed by conversion of vitamin K1 and possibly other menaquinones. A small amount of vitamin K2 can be synthesized in the gut by microflora. Menaquinones can also be found in the diet; small amounts of MK-4 occur in beef, chicken, eggs and fish.
Vitamin K2 food sources include butter and whole milk from grass-fed cows, egg yolks, liver and natto. Some fermented foods, including sauerkraut and aged cheeses, are also good sources vitamin K2 due to the production of this vitamin by bacteria. Non-grass-fed commercial butter and other dairy products are not significantly high sources of vitamin K2. Only grazing on vitamin K1-rich grasses will lead to higher levels of vitamin K2 in the dairy products of animals. Overall, many people find a dietary supplement to be the best, most consistent way to get adequate levels of vitamin K2.
Vitamin K does plays an essential role in the normal clotting of blood. So if you are taking an anticoagulant prescription medication, which is used to slow blood clotting, consuming large amounts of vitamin K through foods and/or supplements could decrease the effectiveness of anticoagulants. Since vitamin K is found in certain plant oils and such foods as baked goods, margarines, and salad dressings, the preparation of foods with vitamin K-rich oils may contribute to an adverse vitamin K-anticoagulant interaction. Just check with your physician if you are taking one of these medications.
The Amazing Health Benefits of Vitamin K2
The skin is a mirror of the health status of the body. Vitamin K2 is the single most powerful skin-health vitamin in our foods, yet it also provides superb protection against a number of serious health problems:
- Vitamin K2 contributes to bone and cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that two forms of the vitamin, MK-4 and MK-7, support cardiovascular health by preventing premature calcification of arteries. However, one study in healthy Japanese women concluded that MK-4 present in food does not increase vitamin K2 levels in the blood. However, MK-7 increases serum MK-7 levels and therefore may be of particular importance in preventing hardening of the arteries.
- Vitamin K2 supports healthy cognitive function. There are now convincing studies that show that vitamin K2 can prevent age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative health problems. In the brain, vitamin K also participates in the synthesis of sphingolipids, a class of lipids active in such cellular events such as differentiation, proliferation and aging. Studies have linked changes in sphingolipid metabolism to age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. Emerging data also point to unique actions of MK-4 against brain oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Vitamin K blocks free radical damage to neurons. Studies have shown that MK-4 and, to a lesser extent, phylloquinone (vitamin K1), prevent glutathione depletion–mediated oxidative injury caused by free radical accumulation in brain neurons.
- Vitamin K promotes insulin sensitivity. Vitamin K activates osteocalcin, a protein secreted by osteoblasts, the cells responsible for building bone. Osteocalcin also supports the proliferation of pancreatic β-cells (insulin-producing), thereby improving glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.
- Vitamin K helps post-op healing. Vitamin K oxide gel can be used for accelerating resolution of facial bruising from other cosmetic procedures such as fillers used for soft-tissue augmentation as well as other types of cutaneous surgical procedures.
- Vitamin K helps prevent varicose veins. Studies show that vitamin K is required to prevent the excessive proliferation and mineralization of muscle cells in the walls of the veins that causes varicose veins.
- Vitamin K inhibits DNA-damaging inflammation. One of the most exciting new roles discovered for the vitamin K2 family is the ability to repair DNA damage and inhibit inflammation that leads to serious health problems.
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Joshua Corn – Editor-in-Chief
Josh is a health freedom advocate and veteran of the natural health industry. He has been actively involved in the natural health movement for over 15 years, and has been dedicated to the promotion of health, vitality, longevity and natural living throughout his career. Josh has successfully overcome several personal health challenges through natural means, and believes that sharing information can empower people to take control of their health so they can solve their own problems and live life to its fullest potential. Josh is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Live in the Now. Additionally he serves as CEO of Stop Aging Now, a company that has been formulating premium dietary supplements since 1995. Josh is currently working on his first book about natural health, and is gearing up to launch the Live in the Now radio show. In addition to his work in the natural health field, Josh is an avid outdoorsman, animal lover and enjoys “living in the now” with his wife and two sons.