It is essential that your heart is able to pump optimally throughout life. A study from Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University, the United States, has just shown that a diet with low levels of vitamin K1 from dark, leafy greens increases your risk of an unhealthy enlargement of the heart’s left ventricle that pumps the oxygenated blood to the aorta (the body’s largest artery). The scientists even observed this enlargement in teenagers. Vitamin K1 is primarily known for its role in the blood coagulation process, but it is also converted to vitamin K2 in our gut flora. In fact, it is vitamin K2 that is important for the heart and cardiovascular system.
The study, which is published in the Journal of Nutrition, included 766 healthy adults, all of whom were fitted with a monitor and asked to report their dietary habits. The hearts of the participants were examined with an electrocardiograph (ECG). In this study, those with the lowest intake of vitamin K1 – a nutrient that is found mainly in parsley, spinach, cabbage, beans, dark leafy greens, and olive oil – were 3.3 times more likely to develop an unhealthy enlargement of their left ventricle and a thickening of the ventricle walls. The enlargement makes it difficult for the ventricle to fill up with blood, and the heart loses its ability to contract properly and pump out blood.
The condition, which is also known as ventricular hypertrophy, does not always include symptoms, and it may not be detected without an examination of the heart. Ventricular hypertrophy eventually leads to symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain, angina pectoris, atrial fibrillation, dizziness, and heart failure in worst case.
The underlying cause of this heart enlargement has not been known earlier, but there seems to be a hereditary link, and hard physical work also appears to affect your risk. Now, with the new American study, there is even evidence that diet plays a role.
Did you know that vitamin K1 is converted into vitamin K2 by bacteria in our gut flora and by bacteria that are present during fermentation of foods like sauerkraut?
Even teenagers risk enlarged hearts
Norman Pollock, the biologist who conducted the study, says that those who get the smallest amounts of vitamin K from their diets have the greatest risk of left ventricular enlargement. In the United States, the most common source of vitamin K is green vegetables that contain vitamin K1, whereas other people such as the Asians get a lot of vitamin K2 from fermented foods.
According to the reports that Norman Pollock and his team of scientists have produced, around 10 per cent of American teenagers have some degree of left ventricular enlargement. Among the 14-18-year old teenagers who consumed the least vitamin K1, the researchers found a general enlargement and thickening of the left ventricular wall. This is an unhealthy development at that stage in life. The changes in the heart caused by low dietary intake of vitamin K1 was independent of other factors such as gender, race, body type, level of physical activity, and blood pressure
|The heart is a large muscle. However, contrary to other muscles, an enlargement impairs its performance and renders it ineffective.|
Teenagers have every reason to eat more greens
Pollack and his colleagues assume that their study is the first to show a link between vitamin K and the structure and function of the hearts of young people. Their research shows that only 25 per cent of American teenagers obtained adequate amounts of vitamin K1 by following FDA guidelines for vegetable intake.
Youngsters who get enough vitamin K can positively influence their heart health in contrast to those who do not get enough of the vitamin and therefore risk an enlarged and unhealthy heart without the ability to pump optimally. Teenagers therefore have every reason to consume more dark-green vegetables.
How the heart works
The heart has four chambers, each of which is fitted with cardiac valves that make sure to send the blood in the right direction. The right atrium receives oxygen-poor blood that has already supplied the body’s cells with oxygen and nutrients. From here, the blood is channeled into the right ventricle and passed on to the lungs, where the blood is saturated with oxygen from our respiration and delivers carbon dioxide (CO2). From the lungs, the oxygenated blood returns to the left atrium that pumps it to the left ventricle. The left ventricle then pumps the blood through the aorta and into the smaller arteries and capillaries, so that the body’s cells receive oxygen and nutrients again.
Vitamin K2 counteracts atherosclerosis, artery stiffness and osteoporosis
It has been known for long that vitamin K2 is vital for the circulatory system and the bones. This is because the vitamin activates a protein called matrix GLA protein (MGP) in the blood vessels, and this protein binds calcium ions. When MGP is activated by vitamin K2, it prevents atherosclerosis by removing calcium from the blood vessels and transporting it to the bones.
Vitamin K also takes part in the activation of a protein called osteocalcin, which we have in our bones. Vitamin K2, in other words, is important for calcium metabolism by producing proteins that make sure to remove calcium from the bloodstream and store it in bone tissue, instead. If you lack vitamin K2, you may end up with atherosclerosis, stiff arteries, and weak bones because calcium is not in its right place, where it is needed.
Vitamin K2, osteocalcin, and insulin sensitivity
Osteocalcin, which vitamin K2 activates, is also important for insulin sensitivity. Pollock therefore plans to follow up his research on overweight, pre-diabetic children with elevated fasting blood glucose levels. Here is another reason why children and young people should eat more vegetables.
Vitamin K1 content per 100 grams
Vitamin K2 content
Natto (100 grams): 1,000 micrograms (approximately)
Fermented vegetables (60 grams) 500 micrograms (approximately)
Gauda or Brie cheese (30 grams) 70 micrograms (approximately)
A vitamin K deficiency may occur as a result of:
- getting too little vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 from your diet
- having a poor gut flora that is unable to convert vitamin K1 to vitamin K2
- prolonged used of medical drugs such as antibiotics, antacids, acetylsalicylic acid, cholesterol-lowering agents, and warfarin preparations (Marevan/Waran) and dicoumarol that are vitamin K antagonists for preventing blood clots
Did you know that many types of commonly used medicine block the body’s utilization and synthesis of vitamin K?
Low consumption of vitamin K by adolescents associated with unhealthy enlargement of the heart's major pumping chamber. Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. ScienceDaily October 2017
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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