Vitamin K2 protects us when we are ill
Cheeses like the Norwegian “gammelost” and Roquefort may prevent weakening of bones when you are ill. New findings show that vitamin K2 protects the production of bone tissue during inflammations.
Fermented cheeses like Roquefort are rich in vitamin K2. Photo: Colourbox.com
Professor Jan Oxholm Gordeladze, who leads the “Stem cells and microRNA” research group, wanted to find out how to prevent loss of bone tissue during inflammations. The work resulted in extraordinary findings.
Both of the methods used to manipulate bone cells – gene therapy and adding of vitamin K2 – were proven to be effective. The researchers also found that K2 reinforces the effect of gene therapy.
An unexpected result, however, showed up when the researchers compared the effectiveness of gene therapy to the effectiveness of K2 used in isolation – when used on its own the vitamin is almost as efficacious as when used in combination with gene therapy.
“This is the first time that the effectiveness of the vitamin has been tested in this way,” says Gordeladze, who is professor at the Department of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oslo.
Important public health potential
The findings contribute to our growing understanding of K2, a vitamin which has been afforded particular attention only in recent years. Today the vitamin is increasingly being marketed commercially.
Professor Oxholm Gordeladze believes their findings will result in considerable public health benefits. Osteoporosis, or loss of bone tissue, increases the risk of fractures after falls from a standing position, which is a common cause of hospitalization in Norway.
“Individuals may benefit considerably from the health impact of uninterrupted protection against osteoporosis and arteriosclerosis, even during occasional inflammations,” he says.
Causes osteoporosis without us noticing.
When we are ill and suffer an inflammation our bone cells may lose their ability to ossify, i.e. to form new hard bone tissue. The fibroblasts, elastic cells in our blood vessels, are also affected by inflammations. They may start to deposit calcium, which can bring on arteriosclerosis, the thickening of walls in our arteries.
"This can happen even if we don’t notice it," says Gordeladze.
The impact on the bone cells is caused by cytokines, a type of signalling substance which is secreted by the inflamed cells.
"We have tried to find a system for manipulating bone cells and fibroblasts so that they behave normally even in the presence of infection," he says.
"Fooling" the bone cells
Professor Jan Oxholm and his colleagues use gene therapy and vitamin K2 to influence bone cells. Photo: Gunnar F. Lothe
Gene therapy involves manipulating the cells’ epigenetic expression. This means that the researchers stimulate the genes they are interested in to be more prominent, for instance by boosting the bone cells’ resistance to cytokines.
The researchers achieve this by inserting artificial genes into carrier molecules, or vectors in their jargon, and then “fooling” the bone cells into assimilating the new genes before expressing them.
There are two types of genes which are prominent in bone cells when they work properly – so-called transcription factors and microRNA. These genes form part of a network of genes that regulate the qualities of the cell.
In order to find the optimal epigenetic expression, the researchers make use of computer programs that read large amounts of documentation concerning the physical qualities of genesd. In this way, the researchers are able to find a genetic expression similar to that which occurs naturally in our bone cells.
Found in matured and blue cheeses
If increased intake of vitamin K2 is almost as effective as gene therapy, this would be a far less complicated way of keeping us healthy.
A limited amount of K2 is produced by the bacteria in our own guts, which means we could benefit from getting a little extra. Fermented and matured foods like dried cod and liver, and cheeses such the Norwegian “gammelost” and Roquefort are rich in vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is also formed by fermentation of vegetables, and is found in particularly large quantities in “nattō”, a Japanese dish made with fermented soybeans.
Another benefit is that K2 is less toxic many ot he vitamins, which means that it is less dangerous in large doses than, for example, vitamin K1 or vitamin D.
Will study the effect in people
So far, all trials have involved stem cells and rats in the laboratory.
Next time around, the research will move on to so-called metabolic studies. This involves investigating the effect of vitamin K2 on the metabolic products of many organs and cell types, in animals as well as in people.
The plan is then to test the effect of K2 on unwanted calcification in soft tissue. This involves looking at the effect of the vitamin on a variety of organ systems, and on models of healthy and pathological cells which are normally found in cardiac valves and kidneys.