Vitamin K doesn’t get the attention other vitamins do, so its many benefits often fly below the public’s radar. Vitamin K is best known for its ability to help with blood clotting, and it’s been championed for that for decades. But, recent research indicates that vitamin K functions in a much more complex way than previously thought, and has surprising effects on the circulatory system. It is one of the best nutrients to promote heart health by helping to reduce calcification.
When you consume calcium, almost all of it is quickly deposited into your bones and teeth. However, a small amount (about one percent) of it remains “free” and consequently dissolves in your blood. If you happen to get a health condition that alters the balance of calcium in your body, leading to an excess, it might get deposited in places it shouldn’t. These places can include your kidneys, your lungs, and your brain. It can also be deposited in your arteries. When calcification happens in your arteries, it can lead to atherosclerosis.
In a recent clinical trial performed at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, researchers studied the link between vitamin K and heart health. They discovered that vitamin K is essential for activation of substances called carboxyglutamate (Gla) proteins. These proteins include matrix Gla-protein, or MGP. MGP is what’s known as a vascular calcification inhibitor—meaning it helps to prevent the sort of dangerous calcification that can lead to atherosclerosis.
The researchers went on to study the effects of vitamin K deficiency in kidney transplant recipients. They took their research in this direction because in kidney transplant recipients, cardiovascular risk is high. So, the research team investigated vitamin K intake in a cohort of kidney transplant recipients with stable renal function who’d had transplantation about a year and a half before the study.
They found that total vitamin K intake was below the recommended level in 50% of the patients. Lower vitamin K intake was associated with less consumption of green vegetables and increased MGP levels. Not surprisingly, MGP levels were elevated in 80% of the patients. The researchers concluded that the high MGP levels may result in an increased risk for arterial calcification.
Make sure you keep your vitamin K levels up. This shouldn’t be too hard, as there are many foods that are good sources of vitamin K. If you are taking antibiotics, have a restricted diet, suffer from Crohn’s disease or colitis, or take cholesterol-lowering drugs, you may need to supplement with vitamin K. Get your doctor’s advice.
Sources for Today’s Articles:
Why This Vitamin’s More Important Than We Thought
Boxma, P.Y., et al., “Vitamin K intake and plasma desphospho-uncarboxylated matrix gla-protein levels in kidney transplant recipients,” PLoS One. 2012; 7(10): e47991.