Vitamin D got our attention for its promising role in immune health in 2020, but it doesn’t work alone. Learn about its lesser-known co-pilot, vitamin K2, and how these two nutrients collaborate for many aspects of health.
No nutrient works in isolation. For many aspects of well-being, notably bone and heart health, vitamin D teams up with vitamin K. Some of the same chronic illnesses that predict poor COVID prognosis also happen to be associated with reduced vitamin K status.
At the simplest level, vitamin D facilitates calcium absorption, while vitamin K2 directs that calcium toward bones and away from blood vessels. This particular synergy also means K2 may play a role in safeguarding against potential ill effects of excess vitamin D-induced calcium absorption, such as by restoring flexibility to hardened arteries.
Digging deeper, vitamin D stimulates the production of metabolic proteins that remain essentially inactive until vitamin K2 flips their switch to “on.” Vitamin D encourages the action of bone-building cells, while vitamin K2 reins in the action of bone breakdown cells, a balance central to maintaining bone density. The combination of D and K2 together appear to help make bones both stronger and more flexible.
This may be especially important for children’s health, since growing bones need vitamin K2 to effectively incorporate calcium into healthy bone architecture.
Homing in on immune health, both vitamin D and K2 play a role in healthy lung function, with D modulating immune response to respiratory pathogens, while K2 is believed to help protect elastic tissues that give lungs their ability to expand and contract.
Clearing up vitamin K confusion
Vitamin K is not a singular vitamin but is actually a small family of vitamins largely represented by the siblings K1 and K2. While it’s rare to be deficient in vitamin K1, researchers believe that inadequate levels of vitamin K2 may be common.
Vitamin D deficiency is common too. While vitamin D is mostly derived from sun exposure, with fatty fish being one of the very few food sources, so low levels are no mystery. The reasons behind a potential low vitamin K2 status are a little more complex. Some animal-based fare, namely egg yolks and butter, contain a pinch of K2. Certain fermented foods that are underrepresented in the North American diet, such as specific cheeses, are rich in vitamin K2.
Supporting our immune health
Many of us are thinking about the big picture of health resilience. Exercise and nutrition are parts of the solution. Topping up with key nutrients may prove inexpensive insurance against health vulnerabilities.
To be clear, no nutrient has been proven to prevent or treat COVID-19. Clinical trials are ongoing. In the meantime, there’s no downside to making sure we are getting adequate amounts of important nutrients. Check with your health care practitioner for personalized advice.
Written by Kate Rhéaume, ND