Preventing and reversing heart disease is a major passion of mine and I am always on the hunt for natural ways to support the heart. Many of the effective natural solutions available are not discussed on the news, in the papers and certainly not by most doctors. In this post, I want to review some of the exciting information about an important vitamin that regulates calcium levels in the body, and subsequently helps to protect both your heart and your bones.
Vitamin K2 is perhaps the least talked about of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E + K). It plays an essential role in the activation of several important proteins involved in calcium metabolism and can be the missing link when it comes to supporting both cardiovascular and bone health.
It plays a unique role in arterial health by preventing the buildup and accumulation of calcium inside the arterial wall. When calcium is deposited into the arterial wall, the artery becomes stiff and eventually begins to narrow. The stiff narrow arteries cannot efficiently carry enough blood to the heart muscle and the result can be a heart attack. This process can also happen in the arteries that feed blood to the brain, cutting off oxygen and nutrients, degrading brain function as we age and increasing the risk of stroke.
Vitamin K plays a critical role in this because it is required to produce a very special protein called Matrix Gla protein, often abbreviated MGP for short. MGP binds the calcium deposited in the artery wall that results from aging and injuries to the artery from toxins, inflammation, cholesterol, blood sugar spikes and blood pressure spikes. This “miracle” matrix gla protein acts like a garbage can for calcium, preventing it from accumulating in the arteries and preventing dangerous calcification and narrowing.
When vitamin K2 levels are not at optimal levels the body cannot produce enough MPG, and calcium deposits start to build up in the arteries. So, it is very important to ensure you have adequate levels of vitamin K2, especially since it is hard to find in the diet.
What the research shows:
Not surprisingly, researchers have found that people who have higher blood levels of vitamin K2 have a significantly lower risk of arterial stiffening as they age, a major factor associated with heart health.
In one observation study of almost 5,000 men and women over 55 years old, researchers found that the relative risk of dying from a heart attack was significantly less in the people with the highest intake of dietary vitamin K2. Another impressive study of almost 3,000 Norwegian men and women between the ages of 46-49 years old showed similar findings of reduced heart attack risk in those who had higher intake of vitamin k2.
Other studies, like one done on 244 post-menopausal women, showed that daily supplementation of vitamin K2 resulted in reduced arterial stiffness over a course of three years compared to the placebo group.
Many other studies have clearly shown that vitamin k2 supplementation improves the activity of that special MGP protein that protects the arteries from calcium buildup.
Vitamin K2 and the diet:
In the diet, Vitamin K2 is primarily found in fermented foods and certain animal products. One of the richest sources of Vitamin K2 is natto, a traditional Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans. Natto is an excellent choice for those looking to boost their Vitamin K2 intake, as it contains a specific form of K2 called menaquinone-7 (MK-7), which has been shown to have a longer half-life in the body compared to other forms.
Other fermented foods like sauerkraut and certain types of cheese also contain varying amounts of Vitamin K2. However, it’s essential to consider individual dietary preferences, allergies, and intolerances when incorporating these foods into a balanced diet.
Animal products such as egg yolks, liver, and certain meats can also contribute to Vitamin K2 intake. However, the amounts may vary, and it’s important to choose high-quality sources for overall nutritional benefits.
While it is possible to obtain Vitamin K2 through dietary sources, some individuals may find it challenging to meet their daily requirements solely through food. In such cases, supplementation under should be considered.
And It Helps Bones Too:
As you might expect, a vitamin that has such a powerful impact on calcium might also have some important impacts on bone health.
Bone also has a very important protein that can only be made in the presence of vitamin K2. This special protein called osteocalcin is responsible for binding calcium in the blood and helping it get incorporated into the bone matrix where it can build strong, new bone.
Several research studies have shown that oral supplementation with the right forms of vitamin K2 can improve bone mineral density and increase the activity of this special calcium regulating bone protein.
And I have seen this firsthand in the clinic. Take for example 56 year old Ruth. She had been diagnosed with osteoporosis and made only two small changes to her supplement regimen but did not change her diet or her exercise regimen. She added vitamin K2 and collagen and two years later her repeat bone scan showed she no longer had osteoporosis!!! While both things she added do support bone health, I have no doubt, based on the extensive research available, that the vitamin K2 supplementation significantly aided her body’s ability to form new, strong bone.
The Take Home Message:
Preventing calcifications in the arteries starts with preventing the damage that prompts excessive calcium deposits in the first place. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are the three major factors that lead to damage and calcification. Smoking and excessive alcohol intake are also major contributors. However, if your vitamin K2 levels are low, your body cannot produce the protein that is designed to protect the artery from calcium deposits. As calcium is constantly circulating through the blood, it is critical to make sure your arteries have the protection they need to dispose of calcium to prevent deposits and hardening of the arteries as we age.
The clinical research on vitamin K2 regarding preventing arterial stiffing and reducing cardiovascular disease risk is beyond impressive. It is a very safe nutrient and should be part of any fat-soluble vitamin regimen. For example, taking vitamin D will increase your blood calcium levels so it is critical that you also support the vitamin K2 dependent enzyme that ensures that calcium is kept out of the arteries and properly deposited in the bone. All the vitamin D products I prescribe in the clinic are synergistically formulated to include optimal levels of vitamin K2 to properly balance the activity of the D.
It is no surprise that these fat-soluble vitamins work synergistically together to protect our body and optimize each system.
What to Take:
For supplementation, I recommend taking vitamin K2 as MK-7. This form is known to be more stable and lasts longer in the body once ingested and is the most studied form for both cardiovascular and bone benefits. It is also the most cost effective. Most studies look at doses between 45mcg-180mcg. I suggest 90mcg for most people or 180mcg for those who need extra support for bone health or who have high cardiovascular risk factors.
A Word of Warning:
Certain types of prescription blood thinners work by blocking the activity of vitamin K and if you are on a blood thinning medication it is important to talk to your doctor before starting any vitamin K supplements.