Vitamin K is a nutrient that is most notable for its role in activating proteins that are required for blood clotting. There are two types of vitamin K; vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is the form found in abundance in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. Vitamin K2 includes a collection of subtypes called menaquinones. The menaquinone garnering most of the attention in research is menaquinone 4 (MK4). According to research MK4 may play a role in the destruction and maturation of cells implicated in the development of cancers of the blood and bone marrow, such as leukemia.
Leukemias result when the bone marrow begins to rapidly produce immature blood cells (blast cells) that are unable to develop beyond their immature state. In normal functioning bone marrow, blood cells are produced and differentiate (mature) in a controlled manner. Blood cells begin as immature, partially differentiated blast cells in the bone marrow. They undergo a cascade of events to eventually become mature cells, such as monocytes, lymphocytes, and red blood cells. Mature white blood cells protect the body against foreign agents such as viruses and bacteria.
The uncontrolled proliferation observed in leukemia results in an accumulation of blast cells within the blood and bone marrow leading to a shortage of mature blood cells. The deficiency of normal healthy blood cells leads to the classic myriad of leukemic signs and symptoms; decreased white blood cells resulting in increased susceptibility to illness and infections, decreased platelets resulting in ease of bleeding and bruising, and decreased red blood cells resulting in anemia and consequent fatigue and shortness of breath.
A study published in the medical journal Leukemia evaluated MK4’s ability to induce cell death (apoptosis) in two types of cultured leukemia cells. Within 72 hours, MK4 induced cell destruction in one of the cultured cell lines; however, the other cell line seemed to be nearly resistant to MK4s apoptosis inducing actions. Although cell death did not occur, other positive changes were observed. Scientists discovered that within 48 hours of exposure to MK4, 90% of the cells in this particular cell line experienced arrested development in the G0/G1 phases of the cell cycle. During normal cell growth, if a cell has evidence of DNA damage or expresses any abnormalities that may compromise the whole system the body will cease cell growth and the cell will permanently reside in the G0 phase of the cell cycle. In this particular example, this translates to a stoppage in leukemic cell growth and proliferation.
In addition, this study demonstrated that MK4 can promote monocytic cellular differentiation. In simpler terms, some of the leukemic cells were able to mature into monocytes. Monocytes are a type of white blood cell that plays an important role in the immune system. During times of infection or inflammation monocytes move quickly to the affected area and undergo further differentiation to elicit an immune response. They can be thought of as first responders to the scene of an accident.
It is interesting to note that Vitamin K compounds contain a quinone group in their structure which is involved in growth suppression and anti-tumor activity. This quinone is similar to the structure of some widely used chemotherapeutic agents, namely adriamycin and daunorubicin. Unlike the chemotherapy drugs mentioned, vitamin K2 does not induce bone marrow suppression and comes with a much lower toxicity potential.
This study, like several studies prior, suggests that MK4 has the ability to induce cell death on leukemia cells. This study was unique in that it demonstrated MK4’s ability to stop cell growth and promote differentiation in lieu of cell death. These dual effects along with the decreased toxicity potential could prove to be clinically beneficial in the treatment of leukemia.
Vitamin K2 has been used historically for the treatment of Vitamin K2-dependant clotting disorders. More recently, it has been used clinically for the treatment of osteoporosis. It is important to note that only MK4, not vitamin K1 nor MK7, which is the form most often found in health food stores, produces these anti-cancer actions. In addition, the therapeutic dose is not readily available in most over-the-counter supplements.
At Elements we work with patients that are dealing with cancer to provide complementary cancer care. We can guide you to the most targeted approach to address you cancer care goals. As part of our on-going effort to give back to our community, each month we offer FREE consultations and FREE acupuncture to those fighting cancer through the Elements Cancer Care Clinic. If you or someone you know may be interested call our office at 706-507-0407 to schedule your FREE visit.
Miyazawa K, Yaguchi M, Funato K, Gotoh A, Kawanishi Y, Nishizawa Y, Yuo A, Ohyashiki K. “Apoptosis/differentiation-inducing effects of vitamin K2 on HL-60 cells: dichotomous nature of vitamin K2 in leukemia cells” Leukemia 15.7 (2001): 1111-7. Nature. Web. 30 Sep 2013.
Elizabeth Cantrell, ND