In recent years sales of Vitamin K skyrocketed as consumers become more aware of the vitamin’s “blood, bone and brain” benefits; however, Canadian researchers have identified a new role for Vitamin K: protection against diabetes.

The discovery was made by scientists at Université de Montréal and its affiliated Montreal Clinical Research Institute.

The findings are a welcome advance in the understanding of the relationship and mechanisms underlying diabetes and Vitamin K.

The researchers stressed they are hopeful the findings can lead to new therapeutic applications for the treatment of diabetes, a disease that affects one in 11 people worldwide.

The diabetes epidemic

Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a group of common endocrine diseases characterized by sustained high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). Diabetes is due to either the pancreas not producing enough insulin, or the cells of the body not responding properly to the insulin produced.

When left untreated, diabetes leads to many related health complications, and increases the likelihood of death when a person is diagnosed with any other disease. Untreated or poorly treated diabetes accounts for approximately 1.5 million deaths per year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 37 million people in the U.S. suffer from full-blown diabetes (11% of the population). Another 96 million people aged 18 years or older have prediabetes (38% of the adult US population).

Study identifies the protecting mechanism

Earlier studies made a link between a reduced intake of Vitamin K and an increased risk of diabetes; however, the biological mechanisms by which Vitamin K provided protection remained a mystery until now.

Vitamin K is best known for the role it plays in blood clotting. A process called “the gamma-carboxylation reaction” is essential for blood clotting, and researchers have suspected this process has other functions in the body.

Type 1 vs Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is the less-common type and is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction in the body. This reaction stops the body from making insulin. Only 5-10% of the people who have diabetes have type 1.

Most people with diabetes have type 2. With type 2 the body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. Type 2 diabetes develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adulthood.

Type 2 is almost always caused by poor lifestyle choices. The CDC website acknowledges this by stating: “Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating healthy food and being active.”

In the new study the research team was first able to determine that the enzymes involved in gamma-carboxylation (and therefore in the use of vitamin K) were present in large quantities in pancreatic beta cells—the very cells that produce the vital insulin that controls blood sugar levels.

Next, the researchers used an animal model to identify the role Vitamin K plays in the gamma-carboxylation process inside the beta cells.

Observing this role allowed researchers to identify a new gamma-carboxylated protein called ERGP.

Further observations showed ERGP played a critical role in maintaining physiological levels of calcium in beta cells, a process that prevented a disturbance of insulin secretion.

“We show that Vitamin K through gamma-carboxylation is essential for ERGP to perform its role,” the researchers summarized in a press release.

Scientists acknowledge that the ERGP discovery was the first time in 15 years that a novel Vitamin K-dependent protein had been identified, opening a new field of research in this area.

The study results were published in Cell Reports in May 2023.

More about Vitamin K

Vitamin K is actually a family of structurally similar, fat-soluble vitamers found in a number of foods. Chemically the Vitamin K family includes two natural vitamers: Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) and Vitamin K2 (menaquinone).

Vitamin K1 is made by plants, and is found in highest amounts in green leafy vegetables, because it is directly involved in photosynthesis. Animals convert Vitamin K1 to Vitamin K2 via bacteria in the gut flora. This type of of Vitamin K2 is known as MK-4.

The other forms of Vitamin K2 are typically produced by bacteria, and can be found in fermented foods, cheese, and quality supplements.

Vitamin K in general is probably best known for the role it plays in blood clotting; however, in recent years researchers have focused more on Vitamin K2 intake, or on the importance of K1 and K2 synergy. Studied this way, the Vitamin K “family” has been linked to virtually every aspect of health: heart, brain, energy, muscle, joint and bone.

It is due to all these connections that Vitamin K is rising in the ranks and has become one of the most-purchased vitamin supplements. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, Vitamin K is now in the top 20 list of the most-purchased supplements, sitting at position 14.

According to market research company, Global Market Insights, the reasons for the rising demand is easy to pinpoint: “The growing burden of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular diseases worldwide, along with the consequent adverse health impacts.”

In short, people are buying Vitamin K because they know it will help offset the increased risk of chronic diseases.

Optimal Health Systems offers several formulas providing Vitamin K2, and one product providing a potent K1 and K2 combination. Please follow the links below for more info.

Optimal Longevi-D
(with K2, CoQ10 and Vitamin D)

Optimal 2 Vitamin/Mineral
(with K2 and all other essential vitamins and minerals)

Essential DAK1K2
(with both K1 and K2, and other fat-soluble vitamins)

– – –

Sources: Cell Reports, CDC.gov, MDLinx/Council for Responsible Nutrition, Global Market Insights, Wikipedia/diabetes.