Vitamin K2 and Brain Health

Foods highest in Vitamin K on a wooden board. Healthy eating. Top view

Are you a bit upset with yourself when you can’t find your car keys? Do you walk into a room and can’t remember why you went there? Do you find yourself having to make a list to remember things or else just assuming you won’t?  Can you remember the title of the movie you saw last weekend? Hmmm!

Well, join the human race.  Many folks start feeling their age with the loss of mental acuity.  There is pretty good evidence that the speed of our “microprocessor” slows as we age.  In our 20’s, it takes about 310 milliseconds for a sound wave to show a brain-evoked response. We hold onto that for 10-20 years and then lose about 10 milliseconds a decade. By age 60, we are at 350 milliseconds.  We are slowing down. Our brains take a while to remember. If we panic in that extra millisecond, we erase the possibility of remembering.

By the time we hit 390, we are demented. We call that Alzheimer’s. Our goal is to prevent aging-related decline. Ok, so what does Vitamin K have to do with it? Ferland, in his review, goes over all the basic science of K2. The dominant form of K in the brain is MK-4 or K2. We have known for almost 50 years that K2 is necessary and important for the production of sphingolipids which are critical signaling and structural components in the brain.  Your first clue about the role of K in the brain comes from the dire warnings for pregnant women not to take coumadin.  Coumadin blocks K1, and mothers on coumadin have a very high risk for brain damage to their babies if not outright death and miscarriage. Of note, the majority of damage happens when taken earliest in pregnancy.

So what about later in life with mild insufficiency? Ferland’s review details a variety of studies that are beginning to put together a compelling picture. From basic physiology where there is extensive research now detailing the role of K2 in promoting important brain proteins like Gas6 that plays a major role in cell survival, chemotaxis, mitogenesis, and cell growth of neurons and glial cells. There is also emerging bench research in rats that are fed high, medium, and low levels of K2 while young and maturing.  The rats with high K2 intake end up performing markedly better on maze testing.

Alzheimer’s patients can be measured for their K2 status and be found to have markedly lower K2 in their blood and a diet of fewer green vegetables compared to controls. Measurement of uncarboxylated vitamin K-dependent proteins also correlates strongly with performance on the Mini-Mental Status exam.

Which comes first?  We won’t know until we have much more research, which will take 10-20 years, to be followed by 10 years of national conventional haggling and guideline development.  For those of you with 20 years to spare, you can wait.

WWW.What Will Work For Me? This is deadly serious. We have a nutrient we have neglected to research.  To our peril! Low K2 is correlated with our brains turning to mush. Much of that comes from eating fewer green vegetables. I’m working on the vegetables. But there is no downside to taking some K2. It is not in any way toxic that we know. And I can’t find my car keys.  Every day, at least 45 mcg of MK-4, and probably more. (And if you are on coumadin, only with the care and supervision of a knowledgeable doctor).

Pop Quiz

1. As we age, the speed of our brain’s ability to process information slowly or speeds up? Answer: Slows. By about 10 milliseconds a decade.

2. When you block vitamin K1 production with coumadin in pregnant women, their fetuses have dramatic toxic effects demonstrated on their brains. T or F Answer: True

3. Rats fed no K2 over their lifetime do better or worse than rats fed adequate amounts. Answer: Dramatically different performance in maze testing experiments. More K2, better memory in rats.

4. Frail elderly with cognitive decline have lower K2 in their blood than those with no cognitive decline. T or F Answer: True.

5. We will have guidelines soon to guide us in our decisions. T or F Answer: Don’t hold your breath. The innovation process in medicine takes 14 years.

The column is written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI