‍Not many people have heard of Dr. Bruce Ames' seminal article entitled Vitamin K, an example of triage theory: is micronutrient inadequacy linked to diseases of aging?, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2009 issue. (http://www.ajcn.org/content/90/4/889.full.pdf+html)  

What Dr. Ames accomplished in this study was nothing short of amazing:

  1. His research group proved Ames’ “triage” theory for macronutrients, showing that our body prioritizes the use of scarce micronutrients in favor of short-term survival at the expense of long-term health. This means that when our body requires nutrients for short-term health and reproduction, it robs them from organs that are nutrient rich and of lesser importance, in order to sustain major organs that are nutrient poor.
  2. They were able to clearly demonstrate that the current FDA’s recommended daily intake (RDI) for vitamin K of 90 mcg per day is too low. That RDI amount is strictly based on what is required for healthy blood coagulation and does not take into consideration the amounts required by the body to process calcium for proper bone building, osteoporosis prevention, and protect the heart from atherosclerosis.

Ames and colleagues demonstrated that when the supply of vitamin K was limited, as it is in the typical American diet, the body utilizes what little it can find to protect critical metabolic functions in the liver. Unfortunately, that leaves other vitamin K-dependent proteins, the ones associated with bone building, cancer prevention, and protecting the heart from atherosclerosis, without sufficient vitamin K to function properly. The result of this leaves the body at risk for developing age-related diseases like cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. 

  • Vitamin K1 is found in green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli and spinach, and makes up about 90% of the vitamin K consumed in the diet.
  • Vitamin K2 accounts for the other 10% and can be found in meat, and fermented food products like cheese, and natto.

However, as stated before, most people do not get enough vitamin K (both K1 and K2) from food sources. Also, most multivitamin supplements contain little if any vitamin K. This deficiency is putting the vast majority of the population at risk for age-related disease like arterial calcification, osteoporosis and bone fracture, and cancer. Based on the Ames’ triage perspective, much of the population, especially those who are taking Warfarin/Coumadin (blood thinners), are not receiving sufficient vitamin K for optimal long-term health. 

Consequently, our daily intake of vitamin K needs to be increased to prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, and ensure optimal human health.  Some scientists are recommending the following adult daily vitamin K doses for maintaining optimal health:

  • Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) 240 mcg.
  • Vitamin K2 (menaquinone-7) 45 mcg. 

Although vitamin K2 does not affect coagulation, excessive amounts are not recommended.

Early this year, Dr. Ames’ group published the Adaptive dysfunction of selenoproteins from the perspective of the triage theory: why modest selenium deficiency may increase risk of diseases of aging. Once again, they demonstrated that our body is capable of triaging nutrient. This time, they proved that when our body has low selenium reserves and if our dietary intake is inadequate, the body will take selenium out from our vital organs.  The  downside of this causes long-term DNA damage, which will show up as cancer some 20 years later. Consequently, if you are deficient for years your body weakens, DNA becomes damaged and you get sick and eventually die. For maximum life span, we need to meet all our micronutrient needs throughout life. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21402715)