The incidence of cardiovascular disease in the United States is a sobering reminder that even though we deploy the most technologically sophisticated medical interventions and pharmaceutical agents, the epidemic of heart disease remains persistent and insidious. It remains the number one cause of death in the United States. Every 40 seconds, a person suffers a heart attack, and every 34 seconds, a person dies from a heart attack. Fortunately, for most of the industrialized world, cardiovascular trauma care, if implemented quickly, can save lives. This is where our allopathic medical model shines. If you are fortunate enough to receive immediate surgical and pharmaceutical treatment in a hospital, your risk of dying from a heart attack is significantly reduced. While we applaud this advancement in cardiovascular care and look forward to new technologies that can save even more lives, we should also pause and think critically about how to prevent heart disease from developing in the first place. It is never a good idea to ignore known cardiovascular insults like tobacco smoke, unhealthy trans-fats and industrial seed oils, ultra-processed foods, excessive sugar, a sedentary lifestyle, nutrient deficiencies, and environmental pollutants just because you know that when you have a cardiovascular event the brave doctors and nurses in the emergency room will save your life. It’s always advisable to prevent disease incidence rather than roll the dice and hope that medical science can save your life. This is where nutritional medicine shines! Doctors within the integrative and functional medicine community have known for decades that the foods you eat, the toxins you’re exposed to, and the lifestyle you live are directly correlated with cardiovascular disease risk. While it is true that heart diseases and abnormalities can be inherited, it does not follow that your fate is predetermined by genetics. Your dietary and lifestyle habits can dramatically improve or worsen your chances of developing heart disease. Remember, food drives both illness and wellness; it’s the poison or the antidote. Every bite you take is a powerful opportunity to create health or promote disease.
Cardiologists who practice nutritional medicine have known for years that the trio of A, D3, and K2 are the unsung heroes of our cardiovascular system, supporting proper heart function and the 60,000 miles of blood vessels. They work in concert to keep calcium in your bones and out of your arteries. They have a preventive effect on thrombus formation (blood clot), heart attack risk, and hypertensive response. Also, they work within the arterial system to keep blood vessels flexible and robust while reducing inflammatory markers in the bloodstream. Of the three, vitamin K has recently attracted the attention of research scientists because of its ability to prevent arterial calcification.
What Is Vitamin K2?
Although we often hear about vitamin K1 and K2, several compounds fall under the “vitamin K” category. Vitamin K1 is known as phylloquinone, while K2 is known as menaquinone. Compared to many other vitamins, the roles and health benefits of vitamin K2 were only recently discovered. Vitamin K2 serves many functions in the body. Still, its most important role is helping the body to use calcium and preventing calcification of the arteries, which can lead to heart disease. Recent studies have also shown that a lack of this vitamin is associated with osteoporosis. If there is one thing that we need K2 for, it is to prevent calcium from accumulating in the wrong locations, especially in soft tissues. A low intake of vitamin K2 can contribute to plaque build-up in the arteries, tartar formation on the teeth, and hardening of tissues that cause arthritis symptoms, bursitis, reduced flexibility, stiffness, and pain. Some evidence also suggests that K2 has anti-inflammatory properties and may offer some protection against cancer, including research published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.
Food Sources of Vitamin K2
Vitamin K1 is commonly found in vegetables, whereas K2 is mainly in animal proteins or fermented foods. Since K2 is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is in animal foods containing saturated fat and cholesterol. Animals can convert vitamin K1 into K2, while humans lack the necessary enzyme pathway. That’s why consuming K2 directly from animal-derived food sources, particularly grass-fed animals, which provide the most K2, is beneficial. The ten best vitamin K2 foods include: natto, beef liver, chicken (especially dark meat), goose liver pate, hard cheeses (such as Gouda, Pecorino Romano, Gruyere, etc.), Jarlsberg cheese, soft cheeses, blue cheese, ground beef, goose meat.
Health Benefits Associated with Vitamin K2
Helps Regulate Use of Calcium
Vitamin K2 plays a crucial role in controlling calcium accumulation in the body. It benefits the skeletal, cardiovascular, dental, and nervous systems by regulating the use of calcium, particularly in bones, arteries, and teeth. The “calcium paradox” is a common term used by medical professionals to describe the phenomenon where calcium supplementation reduces the risk of osteoporosis but increases the risk of heart disease. The reason for this paradox is a deficiency in vitamin K2.
K2 works closely with vitamin D3 to inhibit osteoclasts, which are cells responsible for bone resorption. The relationship between vitamin D and calcium is important, as vitamin D helps transport calcium from the intestines to the bloodstream. However, vitamin K2 is needed to activate osteocalcin, one of its dependent proteins, which then removes calcium from the bloodstream and deposits it into bones and teeth.
Protects the Cardiovascular System
Vitamin K2 is one of the best vitamins for protection against heart-related problems, including atherosclerosis (stiffening of the arteries), which is the leading cause of death in many developed countries. A 2015 report published in the Integrative Medicine Clinician’s Journal explains that:
“Vitamin K2 is associated with the inhibition of arterial calcification and arterial stiffening. An adequate intake of vitamin K2 has been shown to lower the risk of vascular damage because it activates matrix GLA protein (MGP), which inhibits the deposits of calcium on the walls.”
The Rotterdam study, a large population-based study of older Dutch adults, looked at the relationship between vitamin K2 and coronary heart disease (CHD). Those people who had a higher dietary intake of vitamin K2 had a lower risk of death from CHD and severe aortic calcification. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research examined patients with kidney disease. These patients develop calcium deposits in their arteries at twice the rate of the general population. In this study, more than a third of the patients were deficient in vitamin K, and those patients with low levels of vitamin K2 had significantly higher levels of calcification.
May Protect from Cancer
Some research shows that those who have high amounts of K2 in their diet are at lower risk of developing some types of cancers. For example, vitamin K2 may help to protect specifically from leukemia, prostate, lung, and liver cancers.
Helps Promote Kidney Health
K2 is believed to have a beneficial effect on the kidneys as it can help prevent the build-up of calcium in the wrong places, which is the underlying cause of kidney stones. It may also have a similar effect on other organs, such as the gallbladder. Furthermore, research has shown that a deficiency of K2 and vitamin D is associated with a higher risk of kidney disease.
For adults, the minimum daily requirement for K2 is between 90-120 mcg per day. If you are at a higher risk for heart disease and bone loss, some doctors will recommend between 150-400 mcg per day. Both forms of K2 are effective, however, MK7 is the preferred form because it’s food-derived (natto) and has a longer half-life.
If you are taking the prescription drug Coumadin talk with your doctor before using K2. Also, too much vitamin K can contribute to complications in people with blood clotting disorders.