Have you ever met someone that takes their medicine, eats well, and STILL gets heart disease? Could this someone be missing some key nutrients? If you live in the West, the answer is undoubtedly yes. One of the key nutrients that is missing – even from the healthiest Western diets – is a very elusive vitamin called vitamin K2. You may improve heart health for yourself with the dynamic functions of vitamin K2.
Note that while I am sponsored by Nattopharma for this post, all views are my own and backed by clinical research.
Vitamin K2 Heart Overview
Vitamin K2 has many roles that may protect the heart. Vitamin K2 reduces heart disease risk as well as heart disease death. Yet, most people don’t have detectable amounts of vitamin K2 in their blood.
If I also told you that it is next to impossible to get this nutrient from foods, you might be surprised. Perhaps you may also not be aware that cholesterol medications known as statins interfere with vitamin K2 in the body as well.
Researchers have known of this for some time. They observed that when patients take the anti-vitamin K drug called warfarin, they needed less warfarin when taking these cholesterol drugs.
Could this interference in vitamin K be something we should know? Absolutely!
Every person should be armed with nutrition knowledge of how vitamin K2 functions if they want to protect their heart.
Vitamin K2 Deficiency
Unfortunately, vitamin K2 is very challenging to get in foods. This is the primary vitamin K deficiency cause. Based on food intakes, 97% of people are vitamin K2 deficient.
Food sources can vary substantially based on many factors, including processing and the moisture content of cheese or region of origin.
A small part of the population does get enough vitamin K2; they eat a food called natto or supplement with natural vitamin K2. Natto is the biggest food source of vitamin K2. What health benefits do these people enjoy? They tend to get less heart disease, stroke, bone loss, and more!
In the West, natto can be very difficult to find. Most people haven’t even heard of natto, let alone eat it regularly.
See below for the amount of vitamin K2 in foods. Ideal intake is at least 35 micrograms per day. The only foods to contain adequate amount is natto. You would have to eat a quarter pound of cheese a day to get enough vitamin K2.
Research indicates that supplemental vitamin K2 may be the best way to reliably get vitamin K2 for health.
How To Strengthen the Heart with Vitamin K2
We have proteins that build, repair, and distribute things in our blood stream day and night. The function of vitamin K, carboxylation, help these proteins work correctly.
- Reduce diabetes risk
- Help the function of the energy-burning part of the cell known as the mitochondria
- Reduces risk of narrowing of the arteries
- Reduce inflammation
- Increase carboxylation of key proteins that help the heart
- Decrease arterial calcification
- Decrease arterial stiffness
A protein that depends on vitamin K2 is called matrix gla protein. Matrix gla protein, in a vitamin K2-rich environment, reduces arterial calcification. Arterial calcification is a MAJOR reason people end up with blocked arteries and arteries that don’t work well.
Some people are very vulnerable to arterial calcification. These include people with diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, and smokers. Another group at risk for calcification are people on blood-thinning medications.
Vitamin K2 Reduces Heart Disease Risk
In the Rotterdam study that followed patients for over 7 years, high intake of vitamin K2 (but not vitamin K2) was related to a 57 percent reduced risk of mortality AND coronary calcification.
The intake of vitamin K2 in this groundbreaking study also appeared dose-dependent; the more vitamin K2 in the diet, the stronger the protection. This observation means that the results are less likely due to chance. The dose that appeared to have the most protection for the heart was at least 32 micrograms per day.
A large study of postmenopausal women (Prospect-EPIC study), similar benefits were found; reduced coronary calcification in women with high intake of vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 Improves Artery Health
In a groundbreaking clinical study, 244 postmenopausal women were randomized to receive a patented form of vitamin K2 supplement called MenaQ7. Vitamin K2 dosage was 180 micrograms per day or placebo over a 3 year period.
The women who received the vitamin K2 supplements had reduced arterial stiffnesscompared to placebo. Ultrasound and pulse-wave velocity measurements, both validated tools, were used to measure arterial stiffness.
The effects were even stronger in women who had the worst arterial function at the beginning of the study.
The women also had much improved vitamin K2 status in their blood.
Vitamin K2 May Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is harmful to the body in many ways. The heart is no exception. Experts now link all chronic disease to inflammation, which is like a smoldering fire in the body.
Inflammation is often silent, but contributes to the root cause of many diseases today.
It is very important to learn ways to reduce excess inflammation in the body. New research found that pure vitamin K2 (MenaQ7) reduced inflammation markers, including TNF-a, IL-1a, and IL-1b gene expression and protein production in a cell study.
The effects of vitamin K2 on inflammation were dose-dependent. This means that the vitamin K2 dosage at higher amount improved inflammation that low amounts.
Results from this study should be considered preliminary.
Vitamin K2 Reduces Diabetes Risk
In a large observational study of almost 40,000 people over 10 years, vitamin K2 reduced diabetes risk by about 5% for every 10 microgram increase in dietary intake of vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 also was related to a reduction in inflammation score called c-reactive protein in this study.
An easy way to improve heart health is to cut your diabetes risk factors. Vitamin K2 supplements may be a step you can take to help reduce diabetes.
Vitamin K2 May Help Make Energy for the Heart
The energy-burning part of cells in the body is called the mitochondria. Some cells have over 1000 total mitochondria. Each of these need vitamin K2 to function properly.
How does vitamin K2 work to help the mitochondria? Vitamin K2 helps carry electrons in energy production and maintain energy levels of ATP.
Vitamin K2 also helps protect the mitochondria from damage.
The actions of vitamin K2 on the mitochondria likely help explain why people who have higher levels of this vitamin may have healthier hearts than those who don’t have enough vitamin K2.
After all, the heart muscle has a lot of energy produced by the mitochondria! Diseased hearts have reduced function and numbers of mitochondria.
Skeletal muscle is a very high calorie-burning type of tissue. Skeletal muscle also depends on vitamin K2. For example, in cell study, vitamin K2 supplement increased both the number of mitochondria and the ability of skeletal muscle to regenerate.
How To Properly Supplement Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 supplements are very safe. No toxicity was seen at very high doses in animal study.
Natural form of vitamin K2 is important when supplementing. MenaQ7 is patented, pure, allergen-free, and derived from natural chickpea fermentation.
Some forms of vitamin K are completely inactive!
If you are on warfarin, it is still possible to supplement lower doses of vitamin K2 and reap benefits, but make sure to check in with your healthcare provider first before adding any vitamin K. Your INR vitamin K interaction will be closely monitored.
Fortunately, most newer blood-thinning medications do not interact at all with vitamin K2.
Otherwise, vitamin K2 is essentially non-toxic, with no known adverse effects of supplementation.
Do medications and conditions increase vitamin K deficiency?
Medication depletion of vitamin K2 is relatively common. It is important to ask your healthcare provider if you should supplement vitamin K2.
Vitamin K deficiency is also common if you are overweight or have digestive and liver disorders.
The following medications and conditions increase your body’s need for vitamin K2:
- Dilantin and possibly other mood-stabilizing and anti-seizure medications
- Estrogen drugs
- Fat blocking supplements
- Bile acid sequestrants (which prevent fat absorption) such as cholestyramine, colestipol, or colesevelam, Orlistat, Xenical, and Olestra
- Mineral oil
- A preservative butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
- GI tract diseases
- Liver diseases
Take Home Message
Vitamin K2 deficiency increases your risk of heart disease. Vitamin K2 supplements safely and effectively treat vitamin K2 deficiency and help to restore artery health.
Vitamin K2 supplements may reduce diabetes, inflammation and heart disease. As with any supplement, discuss with your healthcare provider before making changes.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.