25 Jan Why Pregnant Moms and their Babies Need Vitamin K2 MK-4
Written by: Sylvia P. Onusic, PhD, CNS, LDN
This article is copyrighted by Walkabout Health Products LLC, 2019
When we first look at the beautiful newborn bundle in our arms, we are filled with joy, as well as relief that the baby is now here and has all ten fingers and toes. But, much more than fingers and toes were involved in his or her creation and birth. Babies, even in utero, are faced with many more toxins today than ever before. Sperm counts have been dropping over the past century as well as fertility levels (Bleue, 2012). It’s now much more difficult for couples to get pregnant than in their grandparent’s day!
So you want to give your child the best possible start in life– it’s not always easy! What can you do to ensure that your baby gets the best of all nutritional starts; a power-packed high nutrient diet? Even though our babies gain weight and meet their height and weight growth percentiles this does not guarantee that they are getting optimum levels of the right nutrients.
A nutrient deficiency at a ‘critical’ or ‘sensitive’ window of development may have a long-lasting or permanent effect on the structure or function. We know this well from animal studies. (Dobbing,1990,1997). Micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, are especially important in ensuring that baby is healthy and grows to his or her optimal potential. Lack of a vitamin can result in a deficiency which can eventually lead to serious life-threatening diseases such as rickets (vitamin D3), scurvy (vitamin C), beri-beri (vitamin B1), pellagra (vitamin B3) which are making a come back among the population (Dean, 2018; Delgado-Sanchez, 2008). These deficiencies have mental as well as physical consequences. (Sathyanarayana et al, 2008).
Although all micronutrients are of great importance, we will focus here on one special vitamin, vitamin K2, and its special role in conception, pregnancy, and birth that you won’t read much about anywhere else. Vitamin K2, a fat-soluble vitamin, comes from a big family called menaquinones (MK), which range from MK-4 to MK-13. The only member of this family that is a vitamin is menaquinone-4. A vitamin is defined as a substance that cannot be made in the body and must be obtained from food.
In fact, menaquinone-4 is the only member of this family that is found in food of animal origin. It is not made from bacteria, as are all the other menaquinones (Suttie, 2009).
Vitamin K1, another form of the vitamin K family, comes only from plants. Much is written about K1 in relation to babies. Newborns within hours of birth get a vitamin K1 shot– actually it’s an artificial form of K1, and this has been the practice since the 1960’s, but there is no prescribed oral preparation used by doctors in the U.S. as there is in other parts of the world.
Why MK-4 is so important for Happy Beginnings
A beautiful smile with good dental health is one of the most important assets an individual can have throughout life. Teeth are formed early in pregnancy, beginning at about six weeks. By eight weeks the tooth buds of all the baby teeth are formed, and by twenty weeks, the tooth buds of the permanent teeth start to develop. (Dental Health Association, 2019)
Do you believe that you could ensure your baby that beautiful smile, just by improving your nutrition and that of your partner before and after birth? It certainly is possible, but what improvements are we talking about?
Dr. Weston A. Price, the dentist who traveled the world and shared his famous firsthand observations on the link between diet and human health in his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (1939) found the secret to the beautiful smile. He was mainly concerned with the effect of optimal prenatal nutrition, the outcome of which he depicted in numerous photographs taken by his wife, Florence, of the peoples he visited. The photographs were of families: parents with straight healthy teeth and smiles, and their children with well-structured faces and straight teeth- quite different from what he was seeing in America. Of course Dr. Price had to find out the secret and he discovered it in the diet of these people. Many times over he found that those with classically beautiful faces and teeth ate a traditional diet, as did their parents before them.
Price was able to return and visit these families some years later and see how they progressed. With the help of Florence’s photos he documented the dramatic changes in later offspring of these same parents after they changed their diets in response to missionaries, trading posts and the introduction of sugar, white flour, cereals, jams, and tea. In one generation, the dramatic changes showed crooked and decayed teeth and facial structures that were less than perfect (Bleue, 2012; Price, 1939). Price also found children in missions and orphanages with tuberculosis, all with distorted faces and decayed teeth.
Dr. Price found that all diets of the traditional peoples he studied were high in fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and Activator X (vitamin K2 MK-4). Based on these observations he prescribed to his dental patients at home a diet of milk, green vegetables, sea foods, organs of animals and the reinforcement of the fat-soluble vitamins by liberal amounts of butter as a source of vitamin K2 MK-4 and cod liver oil, a source of vitamin A and D3. This regimen provides a good amount of fat-soluble vitamins.
In contrast, the current USDA Dietary Guidelines, the cornerstone for the Federal Nutrition Programs, lean heavily on vegetables, fruits, grains, lean protein, nuts, soy, low fat or fat free dairy. These recommendations are the basis that health professionals use with their clients/patients and for Women Infant Children (WIC0 programs).
The recommendations for pregnant women follow much the same basics but include a supplement containing folic acid and iron. This regimen is sorely lacking in the fat-soluble vitamins (USDA, 2015-2020) that Dr. Price determined as the basis for beautiful faces and happy smiles.
The Nose Knows- importance of MK-4 in facial and dental development
Orthodontic visits and braces are a normal part of childhood these days. But we now know that the defects in facial development and the dental arches are related to lack of vitamin K2 MK-4 during pregnancy. The cartilage in the nose of the fetus can calcify resulting in a short stubby or concave nose, usually called Binder’s Syndrome, along with small nostrils, and/or deviated septum making breathing difficult. (Cuillier et al, 2012, Jaillet et al, 2005)) A “short nose rhinoplasty” can cope with the condition later in life. However enough MK-4 in the diet early on and during pregnancy allows adequate K2 to activate vitamin K dependent Matrix GLA protein thus preventing nose calcification and other facial deformities. (Bleue, 2012)
In addition to stub noses, underdevelopment, stunted growth, or narrowing of the middle third of her face (hypoplasia) is also a common feature as well as an underdeveloped narrow dental arch with not enough room for the teeth to erupt (Toriello, 2013). As a result canines (eye teeth) grow outside the normal arch. Orthodontists commonly extract these teeth as well as wisdom teeth.
The face and teeth are not the only areas affected by vitamin K2 MK-4 deficiency. Adverse effects can be wide-ranging. Babies of women who experienced severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy or who took certain drugs like warfarin or phenytoin, showed many other adverse abnormalities: congenital injuries in bones, spine, skull, brain and neurological birth defects. (Howe,1994,1997). Statins (Okuyama et al, 2015)) and bisphosphonates (Fosamax) also interfere with vitamin K2 production, as well as over-the-counter anti-acids, aspirin, mineral oil, products containing petroleum, and supplements. (Penn State Hershey Medical Center, 2019)
Activator X is MK-4 found in butter oil
Dr. Price found that the major component often missing in the diet was contained in butterfat, which contained a substance he called “Activator X,” later identified as vitamin K2 MK-4. By using butterfat to treat malnourished patients, he was able to prevent cavities and even cure seizures. (Price,1938).
Modern testing methods show that the only menaquinone, MK, in butter and butter oil is MK-4 (Vita K Labs), which is also the only form that is bioactive in humans (Suttie 2009, Shearer, 2008). High amounts of MK-4 are also found in Australian emu oil (Walkabout brand), in liver and meat from chicken, goose and duck. (Elder, 2006; Schurgers, 2000). It is also found in breast milk of humans and all mammals. (Indyk & Wollard 1997)
Vitamin K dependent proteins
This “Activator,” now known as vitamin K2 MK-4 plays a role, not only in activating other vitamins, but as a co-enzyme in transforming more than 15 vitamin K dependent proteins (VKDP) which initiate and control processes necessary for life such as bone and tooth building, and preventing calcification of soft tissues like organs and arteries. Seven or more proteins are needed for blood coagulation and for blood clotting alone. (McCann and Ames 2009) (Chatrou et al, 2011).
Mercury and MK-4
Mercury, one of the most toxic substances on earth, readily crosses the placenta into the fetus. (Gundacker, 2012) This toxin causes inflammation, affects fetal growth, damages the immune and digestive systems, and even the brain of the fetus through its toxic effects on the nervous system. Language and communication skills are often compromised as well. (Minai 2018)
Vitamin K2 MK-4 crosses the placenta into the fetus (Hirakie et al, 1988) and is on hand to help combat damage from mercury. The brain, on a healthy diet rich in MK-4, is protected from mercury toxicity in a number of ways. First, by increasing the amount of glutathione -the major antioxidant in the brain and body (Sakaue 2011) (MK-4 is also considered an antioxidant). Then by helping the brain combat oxidative stress from mercury damage. MK-4 comprises almost all the vitamin K in the brain. (Carrie et al, 2011).
Menaquinone-7 not utilized in the fetus- it does not cross the placenta nor enter the fetus
While MK-4 crosses the placenta into the fetus (Hirakie et al,1988) MK-7 does not. When present in the placenta, MK-7, a popular supplement made from fermented soy, natto, or in a proprietary process made in the laboratory said to be a form of vitamin K2. However, MK-7 is barred by the placenta from entering the unborn child. The placenta controls and regulates the amount of MK-4 to cross into the fetus via a protein carrier in small amounts over time. (Iioka et al, 2006).
Although some prenatal supplements contain MK-7, because it does not cross the placenta, it is of little use to the unborn baby. It actually may do harm by causing excessive calcification of the placenta which relates to less oxygen delivered to the baby, thus less nutrients. Expectant moms are cautioned to avoid MK-7 supplements and natto because they may contain nattokinase, an enzyme that can act as a blood thinner:
- During pregnancy and breastfeeding
- With bleeding disorders
- With low blood pressure
- If surgery is anticipated. (WebMD, Nattokinase)
Most research, even up to the late 1990’s, focused mainly on vitamin K1, phylloquinone, found in plants. K1 was first noted for its role in blood coagulation. Later research showed that it was vitamin K2 MK-4 that was the best form for activating vitamin K dependent proteins.
MK-4 is found in animal foods, especially in Australian emu oil (Walkabout brand), goose and duck liver, goose and duck fat, butter, ghee, egg yolk (Shurgers, 2000; Elder, 2006) Australian emu oil (Walkabout brand) (Onusic 2017; Vita K Laboratories, 2015)
Importance of MK-4 in the Brain and Body
Over 98 percent of the vitamin K in the brain is MK-4, which is needed by two key proteins Protein S and Growth arrest specific 6 (Gas6) to become active. MK-4 has overall effects on neural development, including, blocking toxicity in special brain cells called oligodendrocytes, which produce the myelin sheath around neurons, helps them function (Shankar, 2006) and make proper connections throughout the brain. When damage occurs to the oligodendrocytes, the myelin sheath thins and multiple sclerosis occurs. (Pobielska et al, 2013; Ferland, 2012, 2013).
Activation of osteocalcin is required for building and calcifying bones and teeth, but also play roles in learning and memory, and production of sex hormones. Transthyretin, made in the brain and liver, is the major thyroid hormone carrier and plays a major role in vitamin A metabolism (Episkopou et al 1993). Thyroid hormone is crucial to fetal development.
MK-4 stored in the body
Stores of MK-4 are found in the brain, salivary glands, testes, sternum, face, pancreas, eyes, kidneys, bones, arteries and veins, where they are utilized for activating these proteins (Suttie 2009) and possibly for other not yet identified functions.
Making cellular energy and genes
MK-4 is, like Co-Q 10, found in the mitochondria of the cell is an important enzyme necessary as part of the process for fueling the cells (Vos, 2012). MK-4 also affects the expression of several genes as an epigenetic factor (Shearer 2008).
Despite the importance of MK-4, scientists today know very little about its metabolism in humans even though vitamin K was “discovered” in 1935 by the Danish scientist Henrik Dam using chicks deprived of cholesterol in the diet in relation to blood (Suttie, 2009). Cholesterol and vitamin K2 MK-4 often show up together in the body using similar enzymes and carriers. A search of pub med and an email inquiry to Dr. Leon Schurgers, did not turn up one scientific study describing the digestion of MK-4 from food (only pharmaceuticals and supplements). Theories about, yet many areas of MK-4 science in human nutrition are yet to be discovered.
MK-4 is in breast milk of all species
Even in 1997 researchers were surprised to find significant amounts of vitamin K2 MK-4 in all animal milks they tested, including human breast milk, raw cow milk, milk of cats, dogs, mice, pigs, antelopes, and other mammals. The production of MK-4 was highest during the first days of lactation in comparison to vitamin K1. They concluded that MK-4’s existence in all mammal milks indicated it was very important for infant nutrition, and that it had an “unrecognized physiological function for the infant.” (Indyk et al, 1997).
MK-4 in infant formula, food and diet
The same researchers found MK-4 in infant formulas made with milkfat. However almost all infant formulas made today, except formulas that moms make at home, contain soybean oil (SBO) and coconut oil, but no milkfat or cholesterol.
Infants and moms were also deprived of essential nutrients and MK-4 because of nutrition policy set in the 1970’s which was inspired by Dr. Ancel Keys who convinced medical experts that dietary fat and cholesterol were the culprits in heart disease. Calories were also considered important. In 1977 the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, put the diet-heart hypothesis on the national agenda with its publication of the first “Dietary Goals in the United States,” which advocated a low fat, low cholesterol diet. (LaBerge AF, 2008; Teicholz, 2014). These misdirected policy recommendations were adopted by physicians, other medical professionals, academics and dietitians, who recommended a low saturated fat- low cholesterol diet for pregnant moms, nursing moms and even babies. (Kummerow, 2014) The food industry complied by producing a myriad of low fat, low cholesterol, high carbohydrate edibles. These failed dietary goals persist even today, although the low cholesterol conditions have been slightly modified.
MK-4 is fat-soluble and occurs in foods that also contain cholesterol and saturated fat
Which includes foods such as egg yolks, butter, cream, whole milk, organ meats, duck and goose fat and their livers. Thus while eating egg whites, low calorie, low fat, high carbohydrate concoctions from the food industry, and avoiding animal foods as mentioned above, moms and their children’s vitamin K2 MK-4 levels plummeted to even lower levels of deficiency.
MK-4 plays many varied roles in the body, in brain development, cellular growth, organ development, homeostasis and metabolism. MK-4 is important in sexual health, fertility and childbirth, and in many other processes (Soute 1985; Suttie, 2009; Shearer, 2008; Ferland, 2012, 2013).
How to ensure adequate levels of MK-4 vitamin K2 for mom and baby
Research shows that moms taking MK-4 orally increased levels of MK-4 in the blood and in the umbilical blood in the placental tissue. (Iioka H et al 1992).
- Supplement with Australian emu oil (Walkabout brand), the highest natural source of MK-4. The oil must be shaken before each use (it is unadulterated) and poured onto a spoon. The oil has a mild bland taste.
- For breast-fed babies, mix with breast milk and feed to baby, or pour onto spoon. (Zanardo et al, 2016).
- For formula-fed babies, mix with formula, or pour on spoon. (Because it is an oil, it will want to stick to the side of the bottle).
- Can be rubbed on the skin to help with diaper rash, other skin conditions, and for general absorption.
- Over 50 research studies listed on Pub Med.org of the National Library of Medicine, document emu oil’s efficacy in healing the gut after chemotherapy, in Crohns disease and other digestive conditions due to its anti-inflammatory properties. (pubmed,org).
Dr. Onusic is a board certified clinical nutritionist licensed to practice dietetics and nutrition. She completed dietetic studies, a Master of Science and PhD at Penn State University. She is a frequent contributor to the journal, Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts. Her website, Nutrition Power, can be found at drsylviaonusic.com. Sylvia is the mother of two sons and lives in western Pennsylvania
Note: dosage information below is not part of the blog.
Walkabout Emu Oil comes in a 100 Capsule Bottle, 4 oz Liquid Bottle, and a 2 oz Topical Bottle.
All liquid emu oil must be shaken before each use.
1 capsule contains one gram of emu oil and 4,150 nanograms/gram (ng/g) of MK-4.
½ teaspoon (tsp) = 2 grams of emu oil (Label, Walkabout Emu Oil)
For infants: ¼ tsp of emu oil/day
For children over 1 year: ½ tsp/day
For adults: 4 – 6 capsules or 1 – 1 1/2 tsp/day
For heart patients: 4 – 6 capsules or 1 – 1 1/2 tsp/day
Store below 78º F. Avoid storage in direct sunlight or heat.
Keep lids firmly closed. On the 2oz. topical bottle keep the flip top closed when not in use.