Lack of vitamin K2 increases your risk of stiff arteries and atherosclerosis, which is the leading cause of death worldwide. This was observed in two new studies, one that is published in the American Journal of Hypertension, the other in the journal Nephron. A third study that is published in Clinical Nutrition reveals that daily supplementation with vitamin K2 lowers the risk of early death caused by cardiovascular disease. Our diet used to provide substantially more vitamin K2 from fermented foods than now, and this type of food deserves a comeback. It is also important to know the difference between vitamin K1 and vitamin K2.
Arteries are elastic blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the different tissues in the body. The blood flows in thrusts produced by heart muscle contractions, and it is vital for the blood vessels to be able to adapt to the contemporarily increased blood volume. The elasticity of the vessels helps even out the blood stream so that it does not only flow during the periods where the heart muscle contracts (systole). Arterial stiffness is something that occurs when we grow older and as a result of atherosclerosis. In fact, atherosclerosis precipitates cardiac infarction and stroke, which are the two leading causes of death. However, vitamin K2 has great potential, provided we get enough of the nutrient to benefit the heart and cardiovascular system.
Vitamin K2 counteracts atherosclerosis by activating proteins
Vitamin K2 activates a protein called matrix GLA protein (MGP), which we primarily have in our blood vessels. MGP binds calcium ions and, when activated by vitamin K2, it effectively prevents atherosclerosis. If a person lacks vitamin K2, or if MGP is inactivated, extensive atherosclerosis of the arteries will occur. Therefore, vitamin K2 is vital for the cardiovascular system. There is even evidence that it may reduce preexisting atherosclerosis. Vitamin D stimulates the body’s production of MGP.
The relation between arterial stiffness and inactive MGP in people with chronic illness
In the study that is published in American Journal of Hypertension, the researchers looked at data material from 66 type-2 diabetic patients and found a relation between arterial stiffness and inactive MGP. According to the researchers, these results call for further studies of vitamin K2 supplements and their potential for reducing arterial stiffness in people with type-2 diabetes.
In the study from the Nephron journal, a similar link between arterial stiffness and inactive MGP was found in 83 patients with chronic kidney disease.
Vitamin K2 contributes to the right calcium distribution
Vitamin K2 helps activate osteocalcin, a protein that we have in our bones. Vitamin K2 is therefore important for proper calcium metabolism and helps produce the proteins that are needed to remove calcium from the bloodstream and embed the mineral in bone tissue.
The difference between vitamin K1 and vitamin K2, and sources of the vitamin
Vitamin K1 is vital for blood coagulation. We get it from dark leafy greens such as parsley, spinach, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts plus cauliflower, red cabbage, beans, avocado, and apples. However, we only take up 10 percent of the vitamin K1 content from green vegetables.
Vitamin K2 is only found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and soft cheeses. A particularly good source of vitamin K2 is the Japanese soy product Natto, where the vitamin is formed by bacteria like Bacillus subtilis during fermentation. Pasteurized foods contain very little vitamin K2, and only dairy products from grazing animals develop high amounts of vitamin K2.
It is possible to increase ones vitamin K2 intake from homemade fermented foods based on a starter culture. Vitamin K2 is also made from vitamin K1 in the gut, but this requires a well-functioning intestinal flora.
Vitamin K2 content
Vitamin K2 and heart health
Vitamin K2’s potential for heart health is supported by several studies that were published in Clinical Nutrition in 2016. The studies show that increased intake of vitamin K2 may lower the risk of early death caused by cardiovascular disease. However, a similar link was not found between vitamin K1 and cardiovascular disease. Another study that is published in Thrombosis and Haemostatis shows that three years of daily supplementation with 180 micrograms of vitamin K2 helps prevent age-related arterial stiffness, while improving the elasticity of the arteries.
Modern diets and medicine can cause widespread deficiencies
Although vitamin K deficiencies are rare, recent studies suggest that vitamin K2 deficiencies are quite common. However, because vitamin K travels rapidly to the liver, it is somewhat difficult to measure blood levels of the nutrient. It therefore gives a more accurate picture to measure the active and inactive forms of MGP. A lack of vitamin K2 may be caused by poor dietary habits, but it may also be a result of poor intestinal microflora and prolonged use of medical drugs such as antibiotics, antacids, acetylsalicylic acid, cholesterol-lowering statins and blood thinners with warfarin (Marevan/Waran) and dicumarol that works as a vitamin K antagonist against blood clots.
How much vitamin K do we need?
We need a minimum of 45 micrograms of vitamin K2 to prevent cardiovascular disease. This was shown in a study from Rotterdam where people who took 45 micrograms of vitamin K2 daily lived seven years longer on average than people who only took 12 micrograms of the nutrient daily. Although the optimal daily intake level has not yet been established, other studies show that we can easily ingest much higher doses (90-180 micrograms/day) without risking any side effects.
Vitamin K2 contributes to removing calcium from the bloodstream and depositing it in the bones.
In old days we got more vitamin K2 from the diet
We used to make food last longer through fermentation rather than through refrigeration. Today, pasteurization, preservatives, refrigerators, and freezers are common ways of preserving food.
Vitamin K2 supplements
Because vitamin K2 is lipid-soluble, supplements should always be taken in combination with a fatty meal to help ensure good absorption.
S. Thamratnopkoon et al. Correlation of Plasma Desphosporylated Uncarboxylated matrix Gla Protein with Vascular Calcification and Stiffness in Chronic Kidney Disease. Nephron. 2017 Published online.
M Sardana el al. Inactive Matrix GLA-Protein and Arterial stiffness in Type 2 diabetes Mellitus. American Journal of Hypertension 2016
Thrombosis and Haemostasis 2015, Vol. 113, No 5, pp. 911-1157
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