micronutrients

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cheeseA study recently published by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) has revealed that increased intake of vitamin K2 may reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 35 percent. The authors point out that the benefits of K2 were most pronounced for advanced prostate cancer, and, importantly, that vitamin K1 did not offer any prostate benefits.

The findings were based on data from more than 11,000 men taking part in the EPIC Heidelberg cohort. It adds to a small but fast-growing body of science supporting the potential health benefits of vitamin K2 for bone, cardiovascular, skin, brain, and now prostate health.

Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the health benefits of vitamin K2. The K vitamins have been underrated and misunderstood up until very recently in both the scientific community and the general public.

It has been commonly believed that the benefits of vitamin K are limited to its role in blood clotting. Another popular misconception is that vitamins K1 and K2 are simply different forms of the same vitamin – with the same physiological functions.

New evidence, however, has confirmed that vitamin K2’s role in the body extends far beyond blood clotting to include protecting us from heart disease, ensuring healthy skin, forming strong bones, promoting brain function, supporting growth and development and helping to prevent cancer – to name a few. In fact, vitamin K2 has so many functions not associated with vitamin K1 that many researchers insist that K1 and K2 are best seen as two different vitamins entirely.

A large epidemiological study from the Netherlands illustrates this point well. The researchers collected data on the vitamin K intakes of the subjects between 1990 and 1993 and measured the extent of heart disease in each subject, who had died from it and how this related to vitamin K2 intake and arterial calcification. They found that calcification of the arteries was the best predictor of heart disease. Those in the highest third of vitamin K2 intakes were 52 percent less likely to develop severe calcification of the arteries, 41 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and 57 percent less likely to die from it. (Geleijnse et al., 2004, pp. 3100-3105) However, intake of vitamin K1 had no effect on cardiovascular disease outcomes.

While K1 is preferentially used by the liver to activate blood clotting proteins, K2 is preferentially used by other tissues to deposit calcium in appropriate locations, such as in the bones and teeth, and prevent it from depositing in locations where it does not belong, such as the soft tissues.(Spronk et al., 2003, pp. 531-537) In an acknowledgment of the different roles played by vitamins K1 and K2, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) finally determined the vitamin K2 contents of foods in the U.S. diet for the first time in 2006. (Elder, Haytowitz, Howe, Peterson, & Booth, 2006, pp. 436-467)

Another common misconception is that human beings do not need vitamin K2 in their diet, since they have the capacity to convert vitamin K1 to vitamin K2. The amount of vitamin K1 in typical diets is ten times greater than that of vitamin K2, and researchers and physicians have largely dismissed the contribution of K2 to nutritional status as insignificant.

However, although animals can convert vitamin K1 to vitamin K2, a significant amount of evidence suggests that humans require preformed K2 in the diet to obtain and maintain optimal health. The strongest indication that humans require preformed vitamin K2 in the diet is that epidemiological and intervention studies both show its superiority over K1. Intake of K2 is inversely associated with heart disease in humans while intake of K1 is not (Geleijnse et al., 2004, pp. 3100-3105), and vitamin K2 is at least three times more effective than vitamin K1 at activating proteins related to skeletal metabolism. (Schurgers et al., 2007) And remember that in the study on vitamin K2’s role in treating prostate cancer, which I mentioned at the beginning of this article, vitamin K1 had no effect.

All of this evidence points to the possibility that vitamin K2 may be an essential nutrient in the human diet. So where does one find vitamin K2 in foods? The following is a list of the foods highest in vitamin K2, as measured by the USDA:

Foods high in vitamin K2

  • Natto
  • Hard cheese
  • Soft cheese
  • Egg yolk
  • Butter
  • Chicken liver
  • Salami
  • Chicken breast
  • Grond beef

Unfortunately, precise values for some foods that are likely to be high in K2 (such as organ meats) are not available at this time. The pancreas and salivary glands would be richest; reproductive organs, brains, cartilage and possibly kidneys would also be very rich; finally, bone would be richer than muscle meat. Fish eggs are also likely to be rich in K2.

It was once erroneously believed that intestinal bacteria are a major contributor to vitamin K status. However, the majority of evidence contradicts this view. Most of the vitamin K2 produced in the intestine are embedded within bacterial membranes and not available for absorption. Thus, intestinal production of K2 likely makes only a small contribution to vitamin K status. (Unden & Bongaerts, 1997, pp. 217-234)

On the other hand, fermented foods, however, such as sauerkraut, cheese and natto (a soy dish popular in Japan), contain substantial amounts of vitamin K2. Natto contains the highest concentration of K2 of any food measured; nearly all of it is present as MK-7, which research has shown to be a highly effective form. A recent study demonstrated that MK-7 increased the percentage of osteocalcin in humans three times more powerfully than did vitamin K1. (Schurgers & Vermeer, 2000, pp. 298-307)

It is important to note that commercial butter is not a significantly high source of vitamin K2. Dr. Weston A. Price, who was the first to elucidate the role of vitamin K2 in human health (though he called it “Activator X” at the time) analyzed over 20,000 samples of butter sent to him from various parts of the world. As mentioned previously in this paper, he found that the Activator X concentration varied 50-fold. Animals grazing on vitamin K-rich cereal grasses, especially wheat grass, and alfalfa in a lush green state of growth produced fat with the highest amounts of Activator X, but the soil in which the pasture was grown also influenced the quality of the butter. It was only the vitamin-rich butter grown in three feet or more of healthy top soil that had such dramatic curing properties when combined with cod liver oil in Dr. Price’s experiments and clinical practice.

Therefore, vitamin K2 levels will not be high in butter from grain-fed cows raised in confinement feedlots. Since the overwhelming majority of butter sold in the U.S. comes from such feedlots, butter is not a significant source of K2 in the diet for most people. This is yet another argument for obtaining raw butter from cows raised on green pasture.

New research which expands our understanding of the many important roles of vitamin K2 is being published at a rapid pace. Yet it is already clear that vitamin K2 is an important nutrient for human health – and one of the most poorly understood by medical authorities and the general public.

Recommended links

  • On the Trail of the Elusive X-Factor
  • The Vitamin You Need to Prevent Prostate Cancer
  • K2 Associated with Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease

pregnant woman

THS reader Roselle sent in this question:

Is vitamin/mineral supplementation truly beneficial before & during pregnancy for women with a healthy diet?

The first thing I’d like to emphasize is the importance of this question. Adequate maternal nutrition prior to conception and during pregnancy can protect the baby from diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and memory loss later in life.

Intuitively, most mothers know that what they eat will have a significant impact on the developing fetus. And traditional cultures have been aware of this for millennia. Special preconception and pregnancy diets have always emphasized foods that are particularly rich in certain nutrients known to promote healthy growth and development. In some cases, these groups provided special nutrients for fathers preparing to conceive as well.

Traditional cultures with access to the sea used fish eggs. Those that consumed dairy products used high-quality milk from the spring and fall when grass was green and rapidly growing. African groups whose water was low in iodine used the ashes of certain plant foods to supply this important element. These foods were always added to a foundational diet rich in liver and other organ meats, bones and skin, fats, seafood and whatever local plant foods were available.

In the Winter of 2007, Chris Masterjohn published a fantastic article called “Vitamins for Fetal Development: Conception to Birth” in the Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts Journal. Masterjohn remarks:

“Although modern science still has much research to accomplish in order to fully elucidate the value of traditional wisdom, it has already confirmed the fact that many of the nutritional factors that we now recognize as the most important to embryonic and fetal development are the same ones emphasized in traditional pregnancy and preconception diets.” (p.26)

What are these nutrients that both modern science and traditional wisdom recognize as essential? Briefly, they include:

  • Vitamin E: originally named “Fertility Factor X” in 1922 because rats could not reproduce without it. Recent research indicates it is almost certainly required for human reproduction.
  • Vitamin A: vitamin A is necessary for the differentiation and patterning of all the cells, tissues, and organs within the developing body. It is especially important for the development of the communication systems between the sense organs and the brain. Vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to produce spontaneous abortion in several different species of animals.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays a role in lung development, and protects the newborn from tetany, convulsions and heart failure. Vitamin D probably plays a much larger role in fetal development than currently understood due to its interaction with vitamin A.
  • Vitamin K: relatively little is known about vitamin K’s role in embryonic and fetal development compared to vitamins A & D. However, cases of birth defects that occurred with mothers taking Wafarin (which depletes the body of vitamin K) suggest that vitamin K plays an essential role in the development of proper facial proportions and the fundamental development of the nervous system.
  • DHA: DHA may be necessary for the formation of neurons and for the synthesis of the important brain lipid phosphatidylserine. It is also the precursor to an important compound that protects the neurons from oxidative stress. The fetus hoards DHA from the mother and incorporates it into its brain at ten times the rate at which it can synthesize it.
  • Biotin: biotin is a B vitamin that has also been called “vitamin H”. Researchers have recently discovered that marginal biotin deficiency during pregnancy is extremely common. Biotin deficiency has been shown to cause birth defects in rats. Whether this extends to humans is currently unknown, but there is little reason not to increase biotin intake during pregnancy as a precaution.
  • Folate: the importance of folate during pregnancy is widely known. It is necessary for the production of new DNA, and new DNA is needed for new cells. Adequate folate intake prevents spinal cord and brain defects and increases birth weight. It may also prevent spontaneous abortion, mental retardation and deformities of the mouth, face and heart.
  • Choline: a low intake of choline during pregnancy is associated with a four-fold increased risk of spinal cord and brain defects. Choline plays a direct role in the development of the brain; in particular, for the formation of neurons and synapses.
  • Glycine: the amino acid glycine is “conditionally essential” during pregnancy. This means that while we can normally make enough of it ourselves to meet our needs, during pregnancy women must obtain it from the diet. It is required for protein synthesis in the fetus, and is almost certainly a limiting factor for fetal growth.

Based on the established role of the nutrients listed above, Masterjohn makes the following recommendations:

Nutritional recommendations for preconception and pregnancy

  • Take a daily dose of high-vitamin cod liver oil (available online from Radiant Life and Green Pasture) to obtain 20,000 IU of vitamin A and 2,000 IU of vitamin D, and 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (roughly 1 3/4 teaspoons per day).
  • Grass-fed animal fats supply vitamins E and K2; palm oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and freshly ground grains are also sources of vitamin E; fermented foods (cheese, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, etc.) are also good sources of vitamin K.
  • Biotin can be obtained from liver and egg yolks. Cooked egg whites can be obtained in moderation, and raw egg yolks (from organic, pastured chickens of course) can be added to smoothies and cream to boost biotin status.
  • Folate can be obtained from liver, legumes, beets and greens. Choline can be obtained from grass-fed dairy, egg yolks, liver, meat, cruciferous vegetables, nuts and legumes.
  • Muscle meats and eggs should be used along with skin, bones and gelatin-rich broths to obtain glycine.

The answer to Roselle’s original question largely depends upon what is meant by “a healthy diet”. The low-fat, nutrient-depleted diet that is currently considered to be “healthy” by the medical establishment is likely to be deficient in several key nutrients, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins A, D & K and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. However, even a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet may need to be supplemented with additional foods or additional servings of foods already in the diet.

Most of these can and should be obtained from local and organic foods. The exception is cod liver oil, which one of nature’s highest sources of vitamins A & D and a rich source of DHA as well. Not all cod liver oil is created alike, however. Most commercial brands contain synthetic vitamin A & D, which are known to be toxic at high doses. Unfortunately, this means you will have to order high-vitamin cod liver oil from a reputable company online. The brands I recommend are Green Pasture High-Vitamin Fermented Cod Liver Oil or High-Vitamin Cod Liver Oil, and Radiant Life Cod Liver Oil.

Finally, I highly recommend obtaining the Winter 2007 “Wise Traditions” journal and reading the full article by Chris Masterjohn. It will eventually be available on the Weston A. Price Foundation website, but it can take up to one year from the original publication time for an article to be posted to the website.

Conventional dietary wisdom holds that the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements) we need from foods are most highly concentrated in fruits and vegetables. While it’s true that fresh fruits and veggies are full of vitamins and minerals, their micronutrient content pales in comparison to what is found in meats and organ meats – especially liver.

The chart below lists the micronutrient content of apples, carrots, red meat and beef liver. Note that every nutrient in red meat except for vitamin C surpasses those in apples and carrots, and every nutrient—including vitamin C—in beef liver occurs in exceedingly higher levels in beef liver compared to apple and carrots. In general, organ meats are between 10 and 100 times higher in nutrients than corresponding muscle meats.

In fact, you might be surprised to learn that in some traditional cultures, only the organ meats were consumed. The lean muscle meats, which are what we mostly eat in the U.S. today, were discarded or perhaps given to the dogs.

A popular objection to eating liver is the belief that the liver is a storage organ for toxins in the body. While it is true that one of the liver’s role is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons), it does not store these toxins. Toxins the body cannot eliminate are likely to accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and nervous systems. On the other hand, the liver is a is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron). These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins.

Remember that it is essential to eat meat and organ meats from animals that have been raised on fresh pasture without hormones, antibiotics or commercial feed. Pasture-raised animal products are much higher in nutrients than animal products that come from commercial feedlots. For example, meat from pasture-raised animals has 2-4 times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from commercially-raised animals. And pasture-raised eggs have been shown to contain up to 19 times more omega-3 fatty acids than supermarket eggs! In addition to these nutritional advantages, pasture-raised animal products benefit farmers, local communities and the environment.

For more information on the incredible nutritional benefits of liver and some suggestions for how to prepare it, click here.

APPLE (100 g) CARROTS (100 g) RED MEAT (100 g) BEEF LIVER (100 g)
Calcium 3.0 mg 3.3 mg 11.0 mg 11.0 mg
Phosphorus 6.0 mg 31.0 mg 140.0 mg 476.0 mg
Magnesium 4.8 mg 6.2 mg 15.0 mg 18.0 mg
Potassium 139.0 mg 222.0 mg 370.0 mg 380.0 mg
Iron .1 mg .6 mg 3.3 mg 8.8 mg
Zinc .05 mg .3 mg 4.4 mg 4.0 mg
Copper .04 mg .08 mg .18 mg 12.0 mg
Vitamin A None None 40 IU 53,400 IU
Vitamin D None None Trace 19 IU
Vitamin E .37 mg .11 mg 1.7 mg .63 mg
Vitamin C 7.0 mg 6.0 mg None 27.0 mg
Thiamin .03 mg .05 mg .05 mg .26 mg
Riboflavin .02 mg .05 mg .20 mg 4.19 mg
Niacin .10 mg .60 mg 4.0 mg 16.5 mg
Pantothenic Acid .11 mg .19 mg .42 mg 8.8 mg
Vitamin B6 .03 mg .10 mg .07 mg .73 mg
Folic Acid 8.0 mcg 24.0 mcg 4.0 mcg 145.0 mcg
Biotin None .42 mcg 2.08 mcg 96.0 mcg
Vitamin B12 None None 1.84 mcg 111.3 mcg

(Excerpted from the Weston A. Price Journal – “Caustic Commentary”, Fall 2004)

The Top Fourteen

According to government and media health pundits, the top best 14 foods are:

  1. Beans
  2. Blueberries
  3. Broccoli
  4. Oats
  5. Oranges
  6. Pumpkin
  7. Salmon
  8. Soy
  9. Spinach
  10. Tea (green or black)
  11. Tomatoes
  12. Turkey
  13. Walnuts
  14. Yoghurt

This uninspiring list reflects the current establishment angels (anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) and demons (saturated fats and animal foods).

Our list of the 14 best top foods, foods that supply vital nutrients including the fat-soluble vitamins, looks like this:

  1. Butter from grass-fed cows (preferably raw)
  2. Oysters
  3. Liver from grass-fed animals
  4. Eggs from grass-fed hens
  5. Cod liver oil
  6. Fish eggs
  7. Whole raw milk from grass-fed cows
  8. Bone broth
  9. Wild salmon
  10. Whole yoghurt or kefir
  11. Beef from grass-fed steers
  12. Sauerkraut
  13. Organic Beets

EDIT: If you noticed there are only 13 foods on the list, that’s because I recently removed shrimp due to increasing mercury levels. Thanks to one of my readers for pointing this out.
A diet containing only these foods will confer lifelong good health; a diet containing only the foods in the first list is the fast track to nutritional deficiencies.

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