Vitamin A, Vitamin D, & Vitamin K – The Fat Soluble Vitamin Trio

by lydia on October 8, 2015

A topic I love immensely and am very passionate about happens to be the fat-soluble vitamin trio: Vitamin A, D & K. It’s a fine balance and a challenge to get the adequate balance of all three, especially in our modern diet. Often vitamin D is commonly supplemented (overly so) at the expense of adequate vitamin A and K in the diet. I’m here today to bring some balancing insights to these critical nutrients.

Vitamins A, D, and K cooperate to protect our soft tissues from calcification, to nourish our bones and teeth, and to provide children with adequate growth. We obtain these nutrients together by consuming organ meats, cod liver oil, fatty fish, grass-fed animal fats, green and orange vegetables, and fermented plant foods. ~ Chris Masterjohn, PhD

Vitamin A

Natural preformed vitamin A, consumed within a well-balanced diet, especially with vitamin D, is a strong immune system modulator and is a contributing factor to dopamine regulation, one of our main neurotransmitters.

Vitamin A also regulates the female sex hormone progesterone, providing mood and fertility benefits. It acts as an antioxidant and it is important for skin cell regeneration, such as smooth, healthy skin. Dr. Amen, author of Change your Brain, Change your Body says that “your skin is ‘brain on the outside.'”

Signs and Causes of Deficiency include:

  • Zinc deficiency (zinc is important for the use of vitamin A)
  • Infections are more severe (Vitamin A is very important to the immune system, in fact, its earliest name was anti-infective vitamin). Infections also draw heavily on vitamin A reserves
  • Deficiency in bile and pancreatic enzymes (lack of good fat metabolism)
  • Decreased growth rate
  • Poor bone development
  • Decreased likelihood of survival from serious illness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of future goal motivation (may be due to lack of dopamine regulation)
  • Digestive disease (According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Vitamin A, and digestive issues are a bit of a “chicken and egg” relationship, one leading to the other and so forth, because the gut lining is one of the most active sites of cell production, growth and differentiation…which needs a good supply of vitamin A)
  • Night blindness and xerophthalmia (rare in the West)
  • Excess vitamin D supplementation with adequate vitamin A supplementation will drain the bodies reserves of vitamin A

Sources for Vitamin A:

Vitamin A can be found in two principal forms in foods:

  • Retinol, the form of vitamin A absorbed when eating animal food sources, is a yellow, fat-soluble substance. Since the pure alcohol form is unstable, the vitamin is found in tissues in a form of retinyl ester. It is also commercially produced and administered as esters such as retinyl acetate or palmitate.[ Source: Wikipedia ]

  • The carotenes alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, gamma-carotene; and the xanthophyll beta-cryptoxanthin (all of which contain beta-ionone rings), but no other carotenoids, function as provitamin A in herbivores and omnivore animals, which possess the enzyme (15-15′-dioxygenase) which cleaves beta-carotene in the intestinal mucosa and converts it to retinol. In general, carnivores are poor converters of ionine-containing carotenoids, and pure carnivores such as cats and ferrets lack 15-15′-dioxygenase and cannot convert any carotenoids to retinal (resulting in none of the carotenoids being forms of vitamin A for these species). [Source: Wikipedia]

Due to digestive issues and lack of the right enzymes, many people cannot convert plant-based carotenes to the correct and usable form (I find this to be commonly true in slow oxidizers via HTMA testing). Cod liver oil contains vitamin A in its natural preformed biochemical shape. Even supplement forms such as retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and others can be difficult to absorb.

The best way to get bioavailable Vitamin A is from good quality cod liver oil and liver (if you do not like liver, you can take it in capsule form).

Foods Rich in Vitamin A

Raw Lamb Liver On Crumpled Paper, Decorated With Greens And Vege

  • Cow’s liver, cooked, 3 oz. = 27,185 IU
  • Chicken liver, cooked, 3 oz. = 12, 325 IU
  • Whole milk, 1 cup = 249 IU
  • Cheddar cheese, 1 oz = 284 IU
  • Whole egg, 1 medium = 280 IU

Also, heavy cream and Rosita’s cod liver oil are good sources. Perfect Supplements Desiccated Liver pills have 969 IU per 4 capsules. If you are new to liver, let my recipe for chicken pate turn you into a liver convert -it’s actually quite tasty!

Vitamin D

Vitamin D…where to begin? It goes by many names, such as the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin at all, but rather a potent maintenance and repair steroid hormone. It is also a neurosteroid and a powerful epigenetic influencer. It is responsible for regulating over 2,000 genes in the body.

Vitamin D’s role in blood calcium levels plays a role in nerve transmission. Vitamin D is also important in preventing depression, mood disorders in general, and cognitive function.

Synthetic D halts natural D conversion in the body. Sunshine is the most efficient way to get vitamin D if your diet is not full of unhealthy pro-inflammatory fats and sugar. When you have healthy fat stores and cholesterol, UV hits the skin and strikes cholesterol molecules, changing them into a precursor for vitamin D that gets fully activated in the kidney and liver. The best form of D to intake is D3.

There is much more that can be said about vitamin D, it is critical to overall health and very important for brain health.

Signs of Deficiencies include:

  • Diabetes, as Vitamin D, is essential for blood sugar control
  • Heart disease
  • Mental illness
  • Auto-immune illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and others
  • Obesity
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rickets and osteomalacia, Vitamin D is so essential for bone health
  • Muscle weakness and poor neuromuscular coordination
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Poor immunity and susceptibility to infections
  • Hyperparathyroidism, which manifests itself as osteoporosis, kidney stones, depression, aches and pains, chronic fatigue, muscle weakness and digestive abnormalities

It is a good idea to test your vitamin D status before you ever touch a single vitamin D supplement that is not food based. One reason is you are entirely guessing and not considering how it will affect calcium and other nutrients in the body (like vitamin A and potassium for instance). Also, Vitamin D brought in by supplementation has a half-life of 4 – 6 months in the body. It is very easy to over do it on the vitamin D supplementally and then your body has to store excess vitamin D in the fat. Another issue is that many people supplement with vitamin D alone and never take co-factors or try to rebuild their body nutritionally ( a great way to do this is via an HTMA). For example, magnesium activates Vitamin D, and much lower doses of Vitamin D are needed when a magnesium deficiency is corrected.

I personally recommend testing first through a Hair Tissue Analysis, and the following blood tests; RBC magnesium, Ionized Calcium, Vitamin D 25-Hydroxy and Vitamin D 1,25-dihydroxy ( you can order all 4 as a full panel here if you have a Lab Corp near you to do the draw).

Foods Rich in D

bright picture of laughing woman on the beach

  • Sunshine (with optimum health and optimum sun exposure, up to 20,000 IU a day). Vitamin D brought in by sunshine has a half-life of about 4-6 weeks in the body.
  • Blood or blood sausage , = 4000 IU per cup.
  • Standard cod liver oil, 1 Tbsp = 1200 IU
  • Herring, 3 1/2 ounces = 1100 IU
  • Duck Egg, 3 1/2 ounces = 720 IU
  • Rainbow Trout, 3 1/2 ounces = 600 IU
  • Sockeye Salmon, 3 1/2 ounces = 360 IU
  • Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 3 1/2 ounces = 270 IU
  • Chicken egg, 1 large = 41 IU
  • Cow’s Liver, cooked, 3 1/2 ounces 30 IU
  • Pastured pork lard, fat or bacon is also a good source of vitamin D

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is a great antioxidant to brain. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble nutrient that can easily cross the blood-brain barrier to provide antioxidant support to a critical organ composed primarily of omega-3 fats. Deficiency has also been linked to Alzheimer’s. It can be found in green leafy vegetables (and grass) but the conversion rate can be poor in our own bodies. Ruminant animals (like cows) have the bacterial digestion (four stomachs) to break this down into true bioavailable K2 (menaquinone). So the more available sources of K2 are organ meats, full-fat cheese, good quality butter and cream (yellow and orange from grass-fed animals) animal fats, egg yolks, and fermented natto. Apart from high-fat foods, our own gut flora is an important source of this vitamin, the probiotic bacteria in the gut produce and release vitamin K2. Fermented foods are full of vitamin K2 as the bacteria produce it in the process of fermentation, and natto is one of the richest plant sources.

Causes of Vitamin K2 Deficiency (from Life Extension magazine, Feb 2000)

  • Very high amounts of vitamin E can interfere with vitamin K. The oxidized form of E known as tocopheryl quinone interferes with vitamin K’s ability to carboxylate coagulation proteins. But, it takes thousands of IUs a day to create this effect. Supplemental vitamin E into the normal range of up to 1200 IU/day will not affect vitamin K or blood coagulation unless vitamin K is perilously low.
  • Antibiotics wipe out intestinal flora, which is the source of vitamin K2.
  • Cholesterol-reducing drugs, low-fat diets, Olestra, and anything else that interferes with fat reduces vitamin K. Vitamin K is carted around the body by lipoproteins-the same proteins that carry cholesterol. In order for vitamin K to be absorbed, there must be some fat present.
  • Mineral oil laxatives interfere with the absorption of vitamin K. BHT, the synthetic food preservative, interferes with the ability of vitamin K to function.
  • Liver disease, gastrointestinal diseases, gallstones, synthetic estrogens and anything else that interferes with the gut or bile can cause vitamin K deficiency.
  • Dietary restriction or dieting. Don’t forget that dietary restriction only enhances longevity if all nutrients are maintained at high levels. And watch out for low-fat diets. It’s the oil in the salad dressing that enables the vitamin K in your salad to be absorbed. Also, be careful about diets such as high-protein meat diets that are devoid of green vegetables.

Foods Rich in Vitamin K2
(3 1/2 ounce servings)

Piece of three year old Gouda cheese on a cheeseboard

  • Natto – 1,103.4 mcg (mostly MK-7 form)
  • Goose liver pate – 369.0 (MK-4)
  • Hard cheese, like Dutch gouda cheese – 76.3 mcg
  • Soft cheeses, like French Brie style – 56.5 mcg
  • Pastured egg yolks – 15.5- 32.1 mcg
  • Goose leg – 31.0 mcg
  • Butter – 15.0 mcg
  • Chicken Liver – 12.6-14.1
  • Cheddar Cheese – 10.2 mcg

Now that you are well educated on these key fat soluble vitamins, you may be asking; “what dose should I be taking of each?” That’s not really something I can answer broadly, especially for vitamin D, as it has wildly overdosed in numerous health circles. I do assess dosage needs for my clients on a case by case basis because I believe in individualized nutrition. So, your best bet is to get as much through food as possible – make sure your vitamin A is at least 10 to 25 times more than your vitamin D consumption. And if you really want to optimize your nutrition more specifically you can get started working with me through a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis program.



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Christy July 11, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Question on K2 – my daughter (3) can not handle dairy (cow or goat) but I know she needs to be getting K2. Is there a supplement or something I can do to get her levels built up?

lydia July 11, 2016 at 4:50 pm

Hey there – Yes, you can supplement for sure. My favorite K2 supplement currently is called Mega Quinone K2-7 and it contains all the appropriate co-factors. Young kids can take 1 capsule per day (or at least 5 times a week) – if they cannot yet swallow pills, the capsule can be opened up and the powder sprinkled in their food.

Here’s a link to the product (same company that makes Mega Spore)

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