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Life Extension Magazine November 2010

The Remarkable Anticancer Properties of Vitamin K

By Felix DiFara
The Remarkable Anticancer Properties of Vitamin K

For most of mankind’s existence, scientists wallowed in lethal ignorance regarding the critical need for humans to supplement with enough vitamin D.

We fear the same knowledge deficit exists today regarding vitamin K.

In this article, you will discover remarkable findings on vitamin K and its rapidly emerging anti-cancer profile. You’ll learn of newly identified mechanisms by which vitamin K exerts its potent effects. You will also understand why interest is growing among scientists and even some mainstream physicians about vitamin K’s role in combating cancer at multiple stages.

Vitamin K: A New Frontier in Cancer Prevention

Vitamin K2 (menaquinone) has been shown to safely suppress growth and invasion of human hepatocellular carcinoma, a common and deadly form of liver cancer.1,2 It exerts multiple effects on these tumors, modifying growth factors and their receptor molecules in a way that makes them less able to stimulate tumor growth and progression.2-4 It freezes the cell cycle, blocking further replication.5 And it triggers programmed cell death by apoptosis through several distinctive mechanisms.6

Vitamin K: A New Frontier in Cancer Prevention

Lab studies demonstrate tremendous potential for vitamin K in many other cancer types as well.7 Vitamin K2 induces certain kinds of human leukemia cells to differentiate, or turn into normal white blood cells.8 In cells from certain brain tumors, in stomach cancer, and in colorectal cancer lines, vitamin K halts the reproductive cell cycle and induces apoptosis.9-11 Vitamin K also triggers a DNA-degrading protein that cancer cells normally suppress; thereby preventing tumor cells from repairing themselves effectively.12

Lung cancers are notoriously aggressive and difficult to treat. In several different types of lung cancer, including small cell, squamous cell, and adenocarcinomas, vitamin K induces apoptosis through activation of a “suicide protein.”13 Clinical trials of newer chemotherapy agents have been disappointing, but when vitamin K was added to one newer drug, imatinib mesylate, it rapidly suppressed growth in all lung cancer cell lines tested.14 Vitamin K exhibits similarly synergistic effects in bladder and liver cancers as well.15,16

A unique mechanism of vitamin K’s activity is so-called “oncosis,” a form of stress-activated ischemic cell death to which tumor cells are particularly susceptible.17 Because of their high growth rate, tumor cells consume vast amounts of glucose. And because they can rapidly outgrow their blood supplies, that high metabolism means they use up oxygen rapidly, making them especially vulnerable to oxidant stress—much more so than the healthy tissues around them. Vitamin K targets tumor cells for destruction by stimulating oxidative stress, without toxicity to healthy tissues.18

Another unique mechanism, demonstrated recently in bile duct cancers and leukemia, is autophagy, in which cancer cells essentially “eat” themselves by releasing their own digestive enzymes internally.19,20 By still another unique mechanism, vitamins C and K in combination contribute to cancer cell death by autoschizis, whereby cells simply split open, spilling their contents.21

Finally, three of vitamin K’s synergistic anticancer mechanisms have recently been identified. Vitamin K3 inhibits DNA-building enzymes.22 Vitamins K2 and K3 block new blood vessel formation essential to support the rapid growth of tumor tissue.22-24 And vitamin K3 disrupts crucial intracellular communications networks composed of microtubules, preventing the cells from proliferating in a coordinated fashion.25

Why Are Doctors So Slow to Catch On?

Despite more than 2.4 million papers published on cancer research to date, conventional medicine has largely failed to identify safe, low-cost, effective methods of cancer intervention and prevention.1

At the core of the problem is a pervasive arrogance and apathy within the field of oncology. Physicians unquestioningly rely on cookie-cutter treatments (chemotherapy, radiation) that do as much harm as good—and sometimes inflict hideous suffering on patients without improving their chances for survival. Worse, this “one-size-fits-all” mentality bars admittance to novel findings on nutritional strategies that combat cancer at multiple stages in its development.

Don’t expect to hear much from your doctor about vitamin K. It may be ten years before the medical establishment catches on to the remarkable properties of this low-cost nutrient.

Liver and Prostate Cancer: Improving Survival Rates

Vitamin K’s promise in managing a variety of advanced solid tumors has been established in vitro and in animal studies, with benefits shown in lung cancers but not in gastrointestinal cancers, when combined with traditional chemotherapy.26,27 Other studies had already demonstrated that massive doses of vitamin K2, up to more than 2.5 grams given IV per day, were safe and caused no enhancement of the chemotherapy toxicity.28

Additional positive findings came in the form of two case reports, also from Japan. In the first, a 72 year-old woman with leukemia who had failed standard therapy experienced complete remission after vitamin K2 was added to her therapeutic regimen.29 In the second, an 85 year-old man with hepatocellular carcinoma after hepatitis C infection chose to take vitamin K but no chemotherapy.30 His tumor markedly regressed by CT scan, and his tumor markers in blood all normalized.

A study from Uruguay demonstrated that serum markers in a group of prostate cancer patients indicated tumor cell destruction following supplementation with vitamins C and K.31

Recently published studies have revealed vitamin K’s power to reduce recurrence of liver cancer—extending and even saving lives. The first reported on 61 patients documented to be free of their cancers following surgical treatment. Thirty-two were assigned to receive a vitamin K2 analogue called menatetrenone, while 29 received placebo.32 The supplemented group had recurrence of tumors of 12.5% at 12 months, 39.0% at 24 months, and 64.3% at 36 months. In the control group the recurrence rates were significantly higher: 55.2%, 83.2%, and 91.6%, respectively. And 100% of the supplemented group survived a full year, with 87% still alive at 36 months; among controls those numbers were 96.4% and a dismal 64%, respectively.

What You Need to Know: Vitamin K and Cancer
  • Microscopic image of lung carcinoma
    Cancer remains a deadly threat for millions of aging Americans, despite decades of aggressive research.
  • Standard cancer medications can only help after a cancer is discovered, and even then they are limited by toxicity.
  • Standard cancer treatments attack only one or a few biochemical steps in the long cascade of events leading to tumor development.
  • Long associated only with blood clotting, vitamin K is now known to have effects on tissues throughout the body, including most of the steps leading up to cancer.
  • Recent discoveries about vitamin K illustrate the tremendous breadth of its targets, spanning virtually every phase in cancer’s deadly progress.
  • A solid base of laboratory science is complemented by compelling clinical evidence that vitamin K can prevent, and in some cases treat, a variety of common and dangerous cancers.

In a smaller study with 45 patients,33 rates of recurrence were only 33.3% in patients treated with vitamin K compared with 50% in controls. And survival rates tended to be modestly higher in treated patients.

A 2007 study provided some additional support, showing a significant reduction in tumor recurrence, but not survival rates, over a 3-year period in supplemented patients.34 More studies are needed.

Vitamin K2 also induces MDS cells to differentiate into healthy white blood cells

Studies of combination therapies have now provided strong evidence favoring vitamin K2 both in liver and prostate cancer. A group of US urologists studied the combination of vitamin K3, 50 mg per day, plus vitamin C at 5,000 mg per day in treating prostate cancer patients who had failed standard therapy.35 They showed that treatment significantly decreased the velocity of rise in PSA, the serum marker of disease, while increasing the time it took for PSA levels to double. And only one patient in this group of advanced cancer patients died in the 14 months of treatment. This finding demonstrates vitamin K’s disease-fighting credentials in a particularly compelling fashion, when combined with another readily available supplement.

The combination of vitamin K2 plus a drug in the ACE-inhibitor category (both of which reduce tumor blood vessel growth) also produced a marked decrease in recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma.36 The same research group showed that they could use that combination to stop a precancerous nodule from developing into liver cancer in a patient with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis.37

Vitamin K2 in Action: The Case of Myelodysplastic Syndrome

“Myelodysplastic syndrome” (MDS) is a disorder related to leukemia; in fact it was formerly known as “pre-leukemia.”38,39 In patients with MDS, the bone marrow begins churning out increasingly young white blood cells of various kinds. In most cases it goes on to full-blown leukemia, with all of the disastrous consequences of that disease. But unlike leukemia, MDS cells, at least early on, can be induced to develop into mature normal blood cells.39,40 And that’s where vitamin K comes in.

Vitamin K2 in Action: The Case of Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Vitamin K treatment of bone marrow cells from MDS patients potently induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) of the leukemic cells, with the effect much more prominent on blast cells than on mature white cells.41,42 Vitamin K2 also induces MDS cells to differentiate into healthy white blood cells, even when full-blown leukemia has developed.43

Successful therapy of MDS with vitamin K2 was first reported in 1999, in an 80-year-old woman with persistent anemia from the disease. Prior to treatment she had required regular blood transfusions; 14 months later she was independent of them.44 Similar benefits were found in a small group of MDS patients with refractory anemia in 2002.45 And some improvements were also found in MDS patients with low white blood counts compared with those receiving no treatment.46

The combination of vitamin K2 with vitamin D3 achieved good differentiation in a lab study of leukemia cells, suggesting that it might be effective therapy for both MDS and leukemia.47 In a clinical study in mid-2010, the addition of vitamin D3 to vitamin K2 more than doubled the response rate of MDS patients with refractory anemia and low white blood counts, from 13% to 30%. Those are big numbers for conditions traditionally difficult to treat with standard chemotherapy!48

Why You Need Vitamin K: The Triage Theory

Bruce Ames of the Children’s Hospital in Oakland, CA, is noted for substantive, evidence-based reflections on cancer and the human condition. Together with colleague Joyce McCann, Ames has developed the so-called “Triage Theory,” which has surprising relevance to our discussion of Vitamin K and cancer.49 According to the theory, the body prioritizes micronutrient use, favoring functions required for short-term survival over those needed for longevity. Ames and McCann recently applied this thinking to the many newly-discovered roles of vitamin K in our bodies, including cancer prevention.

Here’s an example: our cave-dwelling predecessors were constantly threatened by large predators (think saber-toothed tigers). Get mauled by one of those big cats, and you’d better have good blood clotting systems if you’re going to survive. You’d need at least enough vitamin K to prevent bleeding to death. But your chances of living to a ripe old age—hungry felines or otherwise—was quite low in those days. So it didn’t really matter if you had enough vitamin K on board to prevent cancer—you just weren’t going to get that old.

The reality in today’s world is rather different, when in the absence of a bad accident most of us are quite safe from bleeding to death. So if we get only enough vitamin K to assure proper blood coagulation, we’ll not get nearly enough to prevent cancer and other chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis or atherosclerosis, that rarely threatened our ancestors. McCann and Ames concluded their 2009 summary of this idea as follows: “much of the population… may not receive sufficient vitamin K for optimal function of vitamin K-dependent proteins that are important to maintain long-term health.”


Cancer remains a deadly threat for millions of aging Americans, despite decades of aggressive research. Standard cancer medications can only help after a cancer is discovered, and even then they are limited by toxicity. Standard cancer treatments attack only one or a few biochemical steps in the long cascade of events leading to tumor development.

Long associated only with blood clotting, vitamin K is now known to have effects on tissues throughout the body, including most of the steps leading up to cancer. Recent discoveries about vitamin K illustrate the tremendous breadth of its targets, spanning virtually every phase in cancer’s deadly progress. A solid base of laboratory science is complemented by compelling clinical evidence that vitamin K can prevent, and in some cases treat, a variety of common and dangerous cancers.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.


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24. Yoshiji H, Kuriyama S, Noguchi R, et al. Combination of vitamin K2 and the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor, perindopril, attenuates the liver enzyme-altered preneoplastic lesions in rats via angiogenesis suppression. J Hepatol. 2005 May;42(5):687-93.

25. Acharya BR, Choudhury D, Das A, Chakrabarti G. Vitamin K3 disrupts the microtubule networks by binding to tubulin: a novel mechanism of its antiproliferative activity. Biochemistry. 2009 Jul 28;48(29):6963-74.

26. Tetef M, Margolin K, Ahn C, et al. Mitomycin C and menadione for the treatment of lung cancer: a phase II trial. Invest New Drugs. 1995;13(2):157-62.

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29. Fujita H, Tomiyama J, Tanaka T. Vitamin K2 combined with all-trans retinoic acid induced complete remission of relapsing acute promyelocytic leukaemia. Br J Haematol. 1998 Nov;103(2):584-5.

30. Nouso K, Uematsu S, Shiraga K, et al. Regression of hepatocellular carcinoma during vitamin K administration. World J Gastroenterol. 2005 Nov 14;11(42):6722-4.

31. Lasalvia-Prisco E, Cucchi S, Vazquez J, Lasalvia-Galante E, Golomar W, Gordon W. Serum markers variation consistent with autoschizis induced by ascorbic acid-menadione in patients with prostate cancer. Med Oncol. 2003;20(1):45-52.

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34. Kakizaki S, Sohara N, Sato K, et al. Preventive effects of vitamin K on recurrent disease in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma arising from hepatitis C viral infection. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2007 Apr;22(4):518-22.

35. Tareen B, Summers JL, Jamison JM, et al. A 12 week, open label, phase I/IIa study using apatone for the treatment of prostate cancer patients who have failed standard therapy. Int J Med Sci. 2008;5(2):62-7.

36. Yoshiji H, Noguchi R, Toyohara M, et al. Combination of vitamin K2 and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor ameliorates cumulative recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma. J Hepatol. 2009 Aug;51(2):315-21.

37. Yoshiji H, Noguchi R, Yamazaki M, et al. Combined treatment of vitamin K2 and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor ameliorates hepatic dysplastic nodule in a patient with liver cirrhosis. World J Gastroenterol. 2007 Jun 21;13(23):3259-61.

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41. Yaguchi M, Miyazawa K, Otawa M, et al. Vitamin K2 selectively induces apoptosis of blastic cells in myelodysplastic syndrome: flow cytometric detection of apoptotic cells using APO2.7 monoclonal antibody. Leukemia. 1998 Sep;12(9):1392-7.

42. Nishimaki J, Miyazawa K, Yaguchi M, et al. Vitamin K2 induces apoptosis of a novel cell line established from a patient with myelodysplastic syndrome in blastic transformation. Leukemia. 1999 Sep;13(9):1399-405.

43. Miyazawa K, Yaguchi M, Funato K, et al. Apoptosis/differentiation-inducing effects of vitamin K2 on HL-60 cells: dichotomous nature of vitamin K2 in leukemia cells. Leukemia. 2001 Jul;15(7):1111-7.

44. Takami A, Nakao S, Ontachi Y, Yamauchi H, Matsuda T. Successful therapy of myelodysplastic syndrome with menatetrenone, a vitamin K2 analog. Int J Hematol. 1999 Jan;69(1):24-6.

45. Abe Y, Muta K, Hirase N, et al. Vitamin K2 therapy for myelodysplastic syndrome. Rinsho Ketsueki. 2002 Feb;43(2):117-21.

46. Takami A, Asakura H, Nakao S. Menatetrenone, a vitamin K2 analog, ameliorates cytopenia in patients with refractory anemia of myelodysplastic syndrome. Ann Hematol. 2002 Jan;81(1):16-9.

47. Iguchi T, Miyazawa K, Asada M, Gotoh A, Mizutani S, Ohyashiki K. Combined treatment of leukemia cells with vitamin K2 and 1alpha,25-dihydroxy vitamin D3 enhances monocytic differentiation along with becoming resistant to apoptosis by induction of cytoplasmic p21CIP1. Int J Oncol. 2005 Oct;27(4):893-900.

48. Akiyama N, Miyazawa K, Kanda Y, et al. Multicenter phase II trial of vitamin K(2) monotherapy and vitamin K(2) plus 1alpha-hydroxyvitamin D(3) combination therapy for low-risk myelodysplastic syndromes. Leuk Res. 2010 Sep;34(9):1151-7.

49. McCann JC, Ames BN. Vitamin K, an example of triage theory: is micronutrient inadequacy linked to diseases of aging? Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Oct;90(4):889-907.