COVID-19 has dominated our lives for the past year, yet there is an incredibly important topic that has not received widespread attention: the role of a healthy immune function within the context of this pandemic.
In Simplifying the COVID Puzzle, my co-author Dr. Grace McComsey and I offer a reader-friendly scientific overview of the research that has emerged in the pandemic era related to the role of nutrition—specifically vitamins K2 and D3—in immune function.
While our national focus has been on vaccinations and other measures to prevent virus spread (testing, social distancing, masks, etc.), we have overlooked the opportunity to educate to the benefits of supporting our own immune defenses.
Americans are Deficient
Americans are largely nutrient deficient, driven by poor dietary intake from a standard American diet (SAD). Deficiencies in critical nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin K2, magnesium, and others drive ramifications that include diminished immune competency to cardiovascular dysfunction and osteoporosis. The conventional medical community in the U.S. did not begin to clue into the emerging research correlating vitamin D deficiency and vitamin K2 to COVID susceptibility, and the outcome is no surprise. We are a magic-bullet medical system, and, of course, vaccinations remain the focus of our ongoing COVID response. My co-author and I are supportive of the vaccination program, just not to the exclusion of all other proactive interventions that must take into account nutritional deficiencies and the necessity for supplementation.
Disinformation and politics clearly also created significant confusion and further relegated emerging research to other more proactive countries for discussion. According to new research, the UK is considering increasing their vitamin D supplementation by five times to support the population’s immunity against respiratory tract infections. Where science and research are allowed to lead the COVID response, a broad range of treatment options and opportunities may be considered.
With all of the research and discussion surrounding vitamin D, it is even more critical to understand the synergistic relationship between vitamin D and vitamin K2.
Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 Synergy
From a biochemical perspective, vitamin D and vitamin K2 are distinct nutrients. From a functional perspective, their activities occur on a continuum, are synergistic, and unified. In our body’s system of calcium management, vitamin K2 finishes the job that vitamin D started with the absorption of calcium. Vitamin K2 leads to higher protein expression than D alone and the important carboxylation of proteins to act as desired.
Vitamin K2 activates matrix Gla Proteins (MGP) that would not fulfill their expected role in the body without K2 activation (carboxylation). MGP has a high affinity for binding to calcium ions, similar to other Gla-containing proteins. The protein acts as an inhibitor of vascular mineralization and plays a role in bone organization. MGP is present in bone together with the related vitamin K2-dependent protein osteocalcin.
The synergy between vitamins D and K2 is demonstrated by the fact that sufficient K2 levels increase the number of K2-dependent proteins by up to a factor of four compared to Vitamin D alone.
In addition, without K2, many of these proteins would remain inactive.
From a supplementation perspective, vitamin K2 makes D3 products better, safer, and more effective.
Vitamin D and COVID Research
The role of vitamin D deficiency in COVID susceptibility and severity of the infection is becoming clearer as more and more research is published. Multiple research summaries and mass media articles relate to this story, and so my focus in this article is to elucidate what is happening in the Vitamin K2 research arena.
Vitamin K2 Research
Three intervention studies with all-trans MK-7 for immune health are currently ongoing.
Three to five additional intervention studies are being planned, including long-haulers with COVID-19.
Several observational studies show significant correlations between vitamin status (vitamin K2) and viral infection outcome: Dofferhoff et al. 2020, Janssen et al., 2020, Linneberg et al., 2020, Janssen and Walk, 2020.
A U.S. study conducted by my co-author, Dr. Grace McComsey (pre-print expected very soon), shows an entirely new mechanism of action and immune functions of vitamin K2 that are altogether independent of vitamin D.
Vitamin K2 (all-trans MK7) shows crucial functions in supporting the immune system.
- Down-regulation of cytokine expression (IL-1ß, IL-6, TNF-a).
- Activation of proteins required for thrombosis prophylaxis. These include Protein S and Protein C. It is important to note that vitamin K2 as MK7 is the extrahepatic form of vitamin K due to unique transport mechanism via LDL-particles and three days half-life compare to 2 hours of vitamins K1 and K2 as MK-4.
- Activation of proteins for the protection of elastic fibers in the lungs.
- In adjusted models, every one-unit increase in the log2 dp-ucMGP (a measure of vitamin K2 deficiency) nearly doubled the odds of acute critical disease or death.
It is becoming clear that optimizing vitamins K2 and D before acute COVID-19 infection may help to regulate overwhelming calcification, inflammation, and coagulopathy, which may subsequently lead to improved clinical outcomes.
Why Vitamin K2 is so Important
One of the reasons that vitamin K2 is not as well known to the scientific and supplement community is it does not have a DRI separate from vitamin K as a family. This will need to change as the research is not just about immunity; research on cardiovascular and bone health demonstrates that vitamin K2 as MK-7 has an independent and critically important role in our overall health.
From a dietary perspective, vitamin K is well represented in those who consume dark leafy greens. Vitamin K2 is very poorly represented in the American diet unless you’ve adopted the consumption of Japanese natto, which is unlikely.
Research into vitamin K2 as MK-7 is poised to explode as a greater number of researchers begin to explore the myriad benefits of this important and unique nutrient. Vitamin K2’s synergistic relationship with vitamin D will also help extend the research field as scientists understand that they may only be examining a portion of their area by focusing exclusively on the vitamin D side of their biochemical mechanism.
Dr. McComsey and I hope that we can help bring vitamin K2 in immune health into the spotlight and help more people optimize both their immune function and their overall wellness.
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