The MS world moves quickly. Just last week I was working on a query regarding vitamin K2 (VK2) for people with MS (PwMS), and could find very little in the scientific literature to give a definitive answer. Now, all of a sudden, it seems that there may be some new information that could help!
A study just published in the Central European Journal of Medicine appears to have found a link between multiple sclerosis and lower blood levels of VK2. Before delving into the finer detail though, I should first explain what VK2 is and what exactly it does in the human body.
VK2 is a fat-soluble molecule belonging to the vitamin K group, synthesized by plants and bacteria. It is found in meat, but also in vegetable products like kimchi and kale. It plays an important role in regulating where in the body calcium is stored once it has been absorbed from the gut.
In the ideal scenario, calcium would be deposited in the bone matrix to strengthen it and prevent fractures. It makes up a key component of the body’s blood clotting system and also appears to have anti-inflammatory properties.
It had previously been found that VK2 could significantly reduce experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE) in animals. This is a condition very similar to MS that is often used as an early study tool when trying to understand the disease or test a potential new drug therapy. It is thought that VK2 has a protective effect on the immature brain cells that go on to make myelin – the key component in the MS disease process.
In the study just published, 45 PwMS (39 RRMS, five SPMS, one PPMS) and 29 healthy patients underwent a simple blood test looking at their levels of VK2. A questionnaire was also completed looking at various aspects of their disease and levels of disability.
The results were very interesting – the investigators found that VK2 levels were three times lower in the MS group than in the healthy control group. They also found that VK2 levels decreased by 10% for every increased decade of age, and that this was more pronounced in the MS group (15%). There was no correlation found between VK2 level and any particular type of MS.
Reduced VK2 levels were associated with increasing numbers of attacks per year. For every 10% lower the blood level, there was one more relapse per year. Also, higher sun exposure tended to increase VK2 levels. Although higher disability levels were associated with lower VK2 levels, the relationship was not found to be significant when statistical analysis was applied.
So it’s clear then, we should all pop down to our nearest health food store and start taking VK2? Well maybe not just yet…
It is important to state that it has not yet been shown that increasing your intake of VK2 has any effect on MS. It is simply that those with MS tend to have lower levels of VK2, and the lower the level of VK2 the more active the disease.
We should also note that this is very early work and there are some key unanswered questions. Not least of which are ‘what is a normal range of VK2?’ and ‘what dose would you take as a supplement?’. It also isn’t yet known if the lower levels in the MS group are a cause or effect of the disease or the increased disease activity. The age-old chicken or egg question applies here!
The findings could be due to increased consumption of VK2 in areas of MS damage to reduce inflammation and promote repair, or to decreased production of VK2 by changes in the gut bacterial balance or to reduced absorption in the intestines.
Another aspect to consider with vitamin K supplementation is that one of its primary roles is to make blood clot. If your doctor has prescribed any blood-thinning medications such as aspirin or warfarin, you should avoid taking extra vitamin K, as it could affect how these medications work.
So has vitamin K2 replaced vitamin D as the MS wonder supplement? To my mind, not yet, but it is certainly worth watching this space. These results are bound to create interest in a trial to see whether or not giving PwMS additional VK2 can have a positive impact on MS.
It would be particularly interesting to look closely at the relationship between the two vitamins (K2 and D), as we OMSers have quite a vested interest in the latter one!
Of course, we will keep you posted!
Dr Jonathan White MBChB MRCOG