This is a follow up to our last post about fat soluble nutrients. Previously, we covered two nutrients: Vitamin D and Vitamin A. Now it is time to learn about the rest of these vitally important nutrients, both vitamins and other fat soluble compounds.
Vitamin E is actually a group of eight fat-soluble compounds called tocopherols, sometimes referred to as Vitamin E Complex. (You might have heard of Vitamin B Complex before, and we will cover this in a post about water soluble vitamins). The main role Vitamin E plays in the body is as an antioxidant, but it is also responsible for the maturation of immune cells in the thymus gland and the overall health of the thymus. The thymus gland is a small, specialized, lymphoid organ located behind our sternum, in front of the heart, and its main purpose as a part of the immune system is to store and mature the immune cells called T cells (they are called thymocytes when they are still in the thymus). Once they mature, they are released from the thymus and ready to do their job inside of the body and contribute to the healthy functioning of the immune system. Vitamin E deficiencies are associated with certain autoimmune conditions, including psoriasis, vitiligo, alopecia, and rheumatoid arthritis. Supplementation with Vitamin E has been found to reduce inflammation for these patients. Research from 1999 done by the Center for Disease Control found that 20% of Caucasian Americans, 41% of African Americans, and 28% of Mexican Americans were deficient in Vitamin E. These deficiencies were also associated with higher rates of diabetes, muscle damage, AIDS, liver disease, immune problems, and eye diseases.
Vitamin E protects the body against rancid fatty acids, which is a very important ability, especially for people who consume a larger amount of fats in their diet. As we learned before, most commercially sold vegetable oils are oxidized way before you bring them home from the store, so adding more Vitamin E rich foods to your diet should be a priority if you still consume vegetable oils, or simply want to prevent your body from any oxidative damage spoiled fatty acids might cause (you never know what kind of oil they used in that fancy restaurant you had your dinner at last night). Pastured meats, nuts, and seeds are the best sources of natural Vitamin E. With Vitamin E supplementation, quality is extremely important. If the bottle says dl-alpha tocopherol acetate or dl-alpha tocopherol succinate, stay away from them; these are synthetic forms of Vitamin E and are not nearly as effective as natural forms of this nutrient. Celiacs and those with allergies should also be aware that many Vitamin E supplements (and commercial products containing vitamin E) are derived from gluten, corn, and soy. Contact the manufacturer to ensure that you are getting a supplement from a source that will be safe for you.
Vitamin K is another superhero in our story. When Weston A. Price first discovered this nutrient, he called it Activator X. Later, scientists labeled it as Vitamin K, and even though this name doesn't sound as badass as the original one, the amazing properties of this critical nutrient are undeniable. We recognize two types of Vitamin K: K1 (phylloquinone) and K2 (menaquinone). K1 is a plant derived nutrient, found primarily in leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and broccoli, and it is known for its blood clotting properties. But it is the other K we should be focusing on, K2. Vitamin K2 is an animal-sourced version of K1, and there are actually multiple versions of K2! Vitamin K2 plays a major role in preventing metabolic diseases. There are some proteins in the body that are activated by Vitamin K2, one of them being osteocalcin. This protein is responsible for the calcium and phosphorus in the body being stored in the right places (like our teeth and bones). Without the proper function of osteocalcin, these minerals can start accumulating in other tissues, causing calcification of our heart, arteries, and joints, making them inflexible and causing arteriosclerosis, making our bodies vulnerable to heart disease and stroke as the heart becomes more fragile.
The important thing to note here is the fact that in order for osteocalcin to be produced, Vitamins A and D3 are required in the body (here is the synergy yet again!), so as you can see, they are maybe more like a football team working together to score a touchdown - the quarterback can’t do it alone. Vitamin K2 also helps to regulate insulin and enhance insulin sensitivity by releasing the chemical adiponectin from the fat cells. This chemical has strong anti-diabetic properties and helps to minimize inflammation, lower triglycerides in the blood, and prevent fat accumulation around the liver and other organs. Adiponectin also prevents the apoptosis (programmed cell death) of pancreatic cells. This is really interesting and ironic, if you think about all those years of the demonization of fat, decades of low-fat dieting and removing everything containing fat from the diet and calling it “healthy”, when the most important nutrients that actually prevent the diseases we were told were caused by fat, are supposed to be eaten with plenty of delicious fat. Many recommendations call for Vitamin K, but those guidelines don't really consider the difference between plant based K1 and the animal based K2, which seems to be especially deficient in many people because of low-fat propaganda.
What are the best sources of Vitamin K2? To answer this, we have to first go back to those different types of K2 we mentioned earlier. The most important, the best absorbed by the human body, and the most important for bone health is the MK-4 version. Our brain contains most of the Vitamin K stored in the body, and this is all in the form of MK-4. It is important for the health and formation of myelin in our nerve cells, which are responsible for our capacity to learn, among other tasks. Vitamin K in the form of MK-4 is especially important for infants and children, whose brains are in a crucial period of development. MK-4 is present in breast milk, and the body of a lactating female actually derives it from vitamin K1. MK-4 is mostly found in pastured eggs, grass-fed ghee and butter, duck and goose liver (the best sources), and pastured meat. Emu oil is the best supplement for MK-4, as it is the only naturally available source for this supplement (all other MK-4 supplements on the market are synthetic).
The MK-7 version of Vitamin K comes from bacterial fermentation and dairy fats (if you can tolerate dairy, this is a win for you). Fermented vegetables are something you can easily make at home for a fraction of the price, but you have to use the special starter bacteria that specifically are able to produce K2 in the form of MK-7 (Kinetic Culture by Dr. Mercola is the best). Another source of MK-7 is natto, which is a slimy soy product. This is okay if you know for sure that the soy is non-GMO, and that you don't have a sensitivity or allergy to soy. MK-7 supplements made from natto are also available.
The last type of K2 we are going to mention is MK-3. This type is also called menadione, and it is synthetic; it is known to cause excessive clot formation and therefore is not recommended. If you are looking for a K2 supplement, avoid those containing menadione at all costs. The cheapest brands of K2 supplements will most likely contain MK-3, so read your labels carefully and don't settle for poor quality just because the price is low (it is low for a reason). This unique formula combines vitamins D3 and K2 for maximum absorption and support of every cell in the body. For Vitamin K in general, organ meats, insects, and cultured vegetables are always the best sources. If you are concerned about Vitamin K deficiency, be sure to get plenty of K2 and not only plant based K1, which does not have the same properties. If the majority of your Vitamin K intake is from plant based foods, you might actually be deficient without even realizing it is Vitamin K that is missing.
MORE FAT SOLUBLE NUTRIENTS
It is not just vitamins that deserve our attention. There are a few more nutrients that are fat soluble and support the superpowers of all the vitamins listed above. One of these is the carotenoids, precursors of Vitamin A. Our body is able to create small amounts of Vitamin A from these compounds. The fact that this conversion is not very effective doesn't mean we should skip these nutrients. We mentioned in the introduction that foods today tend to be depleted of nutrients, so we need all the help we can get, and this comes from nature, just like our vitamins. Carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and astaxanthin are found in yellow, red, and orange vegetables, as well as some greens. They also require quality dietary fat for effective assimilation, just like other fat soluble nutrients. Fats from fully pastured animals and Antarctic krill oil are other excellent sources of carotenoids.
Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 is an extremely important nutrient for your heart and brain, and it is critical for our mitochondria and thus used by all of our organs. Mitochondria are present in all cells in our body, and it is their role to generate energy. The main role of mitochondria is to take in the nutrients we eat and extract the energy from them to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that our body uses to create energy (not just for running or walking, but also for cellular processes). Without mitochondria, we wouldn't be able to do anything, literally. CoQ10 can be found mainly in animal fats that were fully pastured, or for supplementation, you can use this 99% Pure CoQ10 blend with natural lecithin, free of GMOs and phytoestrogens. The last fat soluble nutrient that heavily affects our mitochondria is Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ). This nutrient can actually increase the number of healthy mitochondria in the body and can be found in high concentration in parsley, spinach, natto, and green and oolong tea. A small amount can be found in egg yolks, but for this particular nutrient, plant based sources are better.
Did you know these nutrients invisible to the naked eye can actually do so much for our health? The next time you are offered a bottle of multi-vitamin gummies, you will know that without a quality fat, some vitamins will go to waste. Stay tuned for the next part of this series, where we will be focusing on water soluble vitamins C and B! Until then, stay nourished!