There is substantial scientific evidence on how and why we benefit from a variety of vitamins, but ongoing research continues to help us understand the advantages associated with consuming certain vitamins. Research is also useful for clarifying the amounts of vitamins we need to reap the associated benefits. Two important vitamins whose benefits are still being clarified through research efforts are vitamin D3 and vitamin K2. The scientific names for these vitamins are cholecalciferol and menaquinone, respectively.
Vitamin D3 is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines and is used amongst the medical community for a variety of purposes. While we can get our vitamin D from the sun, it is difficult to get a sufficient amount through sun exposure. Additionally, as we have become more and more knowledgeable about the risks associated with sun exposure, some people have argued that vitamin D3 supplements may be a better alternative way to get this particular vitamin.
Vitamin D3 is used as a treatment for vitamin D deficiency and diseases that result from this deficiency. One of the actions of vitamin D3 is to increase the amount of calcium that the intestines take up, which means that it may be useful for combating low calcium levels as well. Indeed, low blood calcium is often treated with vitamin D3.
Here are some of the specific diseases and disorders that may be affected by vitamin D3:
Rickets disease. Rickets disease occurs in children and causes bone softening and distortion. The disease usually occurs as a result of extreme vitamin D deficiency, which may occur over an extended period of time. The disease can delay growth lead to muscle weakness, and cause pain in the back, hips, and leg. By aiding with the absorption of calcium, vitamin D3 can help strengthen bones and also prevent rickets disease.
Fanconi syndrome. Fanconi syndrome is a kidney disorder that involves inadequate reabsorption of nutrients in areas of the kidney called the proximal renal tubules. The limits on the reabsorption can lead to vitamin deficiencies that need to be treated by replacing those substances that are lost, such as vitamin D3.
Hypoparathyroidism. Hypoparathyroidism involves decreased parathyroid hormone function. The parathyroid hormone normally helps with bone remodeling. Research has shown that when people with hypoparathyroidism are given vitamin D3, their serum calcium levels rise which is part of healthy thyroid activity.
Familial hypophosphateamia. Familial hypophosphateamia is a rare, genetically inherited disorder that involves impairment in the ability to metabolize vitamin D in the kidneys. Like with Fanconi syndrome, the resulting loss of vitamin D needs to be addressed with replacements.
Other: Recent research has also implicated vitamin D3 in colorectal cancer and heart disease.
In 2007, a team of scientists investigated data that had been collected on vitamin D for several years. According to their analysis, a daily intake of 1000-2000 international units (IU) per day is sufficient to reduce the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer. The researchers also noted that taking this dose was associated with little risk.
Much of the research on vitamin D3 today, however, focuses on its potential power against heart disease, with a specific focus on the impact of vitamin D3 on endothelial cells, which are the cells that line the surface of the blood vessels of the heart (and other parts of the body). When heart attacks and strokes occur, these endothelial cells undergo significant damage. A study that was just published found that vitamin D3 could repair this endothelial damage. The study also showed that vitamin D3 enhanced the amount of nitric oxide in the blood, which protects blood vessels and makes it easier for blood to flow. This type of action could be another way that vitamin D3 could help with heart disease.
Traditionally, vitamin K2, like other vitamin Ks, has been associated with blood clotting, also known as coagulation. Without enough vitamin K, blood clotting can be inhibited, increasing the risk for excessive blood loss upon injury. Recently, however, research has begun to demonstrate that vitamin K1 is likely more involved in blood clotting than is vitamin K2. Unlike vitamin K1, vitamin K2 appears critical in determining where calcium is distributed within the body. More specifically, vitamin K2 allows calcium to bind to certain proteins. Here are some ways vitamin K2 may be involved in our health:
Bone health. Because calcium is an important component of bone, it is perhaps not surprising that current research on vitamin K2 focuses on its potential role in bone strength. Research has started to accumulate to suggest that people with bone diseases like osteoporosis may be able to benefit from vitamin K2. In Japan, vitamin K has been officially recommended for the treatment of osteoporosis following multiple studies on the benefits of vitamin K in Japanese women.
Another study conducted in 244 postmenopausal women showed that age-related bone mineral density decreased faster in women who did not take vitamin K2 over a 3-year period than in women who did take the vitamin over that same period. Other trials have pointed to the potential for vitamin K2 to minimize hip, spinal, and other types of fractures.
Heart health. While a lack of calcium is detrimental for bones, more calcium is not always better. For instance, when calcium builds up in the arteries that surround the heart, the likelihood of developing heart disease dramatically increases. Vitamin K2 can help prevent this type of calcium buildup. One study found that higher doses of vitamin K2 were associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Another study found that a high intake of vitamin K2 was associated with a lower likelihood of developing artery calcification.
Cancer. There is not a large amount of literature on the relationship between vitamin K2 and cancer, but the results of some studies suggest that vitamin K2 may be associated with lower recurrence rates and longer survival times for patients with liver cancer. Another study, which involved observing data from over 10,000 men, found that those men who consumed a high amount of vitamin K2 were less likely to have advanced prostate cancer.
Some studies claim that vitamin D and vitamin K2 work synergistically, so it could be beneficial to take supplements that include both vitamins in certain contexts. While more research is required for us to understand the specific health benefits of vitamin D3 and vitamin K2, the data that have been collected thus far have shown that vitamin D3 enhances the absorption of calcium while vitamin K2 enables the body to effectively deposit the calcium.
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