Life Extension Magazine November 2016
Vitamin K2 Reduces Atherosclerosis
By Jennifer Ming
In a new study, scientists have presented powerful evidence that vitamin K2 can reduce the progression of atherosclerosis, the “blockage” of the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
This is tremendous news for the millions of Americans who are at risk for cardiovascular disease, which remains the number one killer in the US.1
Scientists long ago learned that vitamin K2 plays a crucial role in activating proteins that help keep calcium where it belongs, in the bones, and out of blood vessels where it can cause problems.
Published data show that people with higher intake of vitamin K2 have a 57% reduction in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and as much as an 81% reduction in non-vertebral fractures.2,3
Here, we’ll review the important new study on atherosclerosis, and then examine previous findings that explain how vitamin K2 contributes so importantly to both cardiovascular and bone health in aging adults.
Vitamin K2 Reduces the Progression of Arterial Thickening
Numerous studies have demonstrated that people with higher intakes of vitamin K2 have a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.3-5 Intrigued by this connection, Polish researchers from the Medical University at Lodz teamed up with researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands and Poland’s International Science and Health Foundation to determine if vitamin K2 supplementation could reduce the progression of existing atherosclerosis.6
The scientists evaluated the progression of atherosclerosis in a group of 42 patients with chronic kidney disease.6 These patients were ideal for this type of study because they are known to experience a rapid reduction in bone mineral density (a measure of bone strength) as a result of calcium losses from bone.7,8 They are also subject to equally excessive deposits of calcium in tissues where it doesn’t belong—particularly in the walls of major arteries.9
For the study, the subjects were divided into two groups. One group received vitamin K2 (90 mcg per day) plus vitamin D3 (400 IU per day). The second group received only vitamin D3 (400 IU per day).6
After nine months, it was already evident that the subjects taking the combination of vitamins K2 and D3 experienced a slower progression of the Common Carotid Intima Media Thickness, which is a good indicator of atherosclerosis, as well as a predictor of cardiovascular episodes and death. Specifically, the thickness of the carotid (major neck) arteries increased by 13.73% in the group taking vitamin D3, but in the group taking both vitamins, it only increased by 6.32%.6 Remember that the group of subjects in this study have a tendency for an increased carotid intima media thickness as a result of calcium losses from bone.
In addition, subjects taking the combination of vitamins K2 and D3 showed a reduction in carotid artery calcification score in all patients except those with the highest scores at baseline.6 This indicates that calcium was staying in the bones, where it belongs, and out of the arteries.
These results clearly indicated that vitamin K2 does indeed reduce the progression of atherosclerosis.6
How It Works
The impact of vitamin K2 on atherosclerosis is due to its role in activating a group of proteins whose job it is to keep calcium in the bones and out of the arteries.3,5,9
In bones, vitamin K2 activates a specific protein called osteocalcin. When osteocalcin is activated by vitamin K2, it binds calcium tightly to bone minerals to create strong bones. In arteries, vitamin K2 activates a protein called matrix Gla protein. When matrix Gla protein is activated by vitamin K2, it prevents calcium from being deposited in arteries.9,10
When vitamin K2 is not present in sufficient enough quantities to activate these two proteins, the result is an increased risk for developing osteoporosis and atherosclerosis because of calcium loss from the bones.11-13
The findings from this recent Polish study were significant enough to merit published comments by other experts in the field.
The experts observed that patients in the combined vitamins K2 plus D3 arm of the study already had more severe kidney disease, despite being randomly assigned to the treatment groups. This means that the group taking vitamin K2 along with D3 succeeded despite a less favorable starting point compared with the group taking only vitamin D3.14
Of course, while chronic kidney disease is common and deadly, patients with the disease are far from the only ones at risk for cardiovascular disease and bone loss arising from insufficient vitamin K2 intake. But given their extreme risk for those conditions, this patient population made an ideal test group to demonstrate the value of supplementation with both vitamin K2 and D3.
Vitamin K2’s Dual Benefits
The recent Polish study further validated previous studies demonstrating vitamin K2’s heart- and bone-health benefits.
Numerous studies have shown that populations with higher daily vitamin K2 intake (more than 32 mcg) have a 50% reduction in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those with low intake.3,9 Calculated another way, for every 10-mcg per day-increase in vitamin K2 intake, the risk of coronary heart disease falls by 9%.4,9 In another study, women with the highest intake of vitamin K2 were found to be at a 20% lower risk for coronary artery calcification compared with women who had the lowest intake levels.5
These benefits have been found to extend to bone health as well. Postmenopausal women taking 1,500 mg of calcium along with 45 mg of vitamin K2 daily experienced an increase in bone mineral density and a 55.9% reduction in inactive osteocalcin levels,15 a marker reported to be elevated in osteoporotic patients and related to an increased hip fracture risk.16,17 Another study showed that when 180 mcg of vitamin K2 daily was given for 3 years, it increased the amount of activated osteocalcin, produced significant improvements in bone mineral content and density, and increased bone strength.18
Western Diet is Deficient in Vitamin K2
The average American diet lacks enough vitamin K2—which is found primarily in organ meats, egg yolks, cheese, and in a Japanese staple dish of fermented soybean called natto—to properly activate those vitamin K-dependent proteins.9,19 Compounding the problem, vitamin K2 deficiency worsens with advancing age.19
Fortunately, studies have shown that sustained vitamin K2 supplementation produces significant improvements in bone mineralization and strength and also in standard measurements of cardiovascular health.9,20
The take-home message is that supplementing with vitamin K2 is practically mandatory for the average American desiring both healthy bones and a healthy cardiovascular system.
Vitamin K2 has the unique ability to activate proteins that send calcium to its proper destination, into bone, while simultaneously preventing calcium from being deposited in blood vessel walls.
A new study has shown that supplemental vitamin K2 can reduce the progression of arterial thickening and stiffening in a population of kidney disease patients, a group that notoriously has cardiovascular complications arising from excessive calcium deposition.
Thus, supplementation with vitamin K2 should be part of a daily longevity program for any aging adult interested in preserving both heart and bone health.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
- Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm. Accessed July 27, 2016.
- Cockayne S, Adamson J, Lanham-New S, et al. Vitamin K and the prevention of fractures: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(12):1256-61.
- Geleijnse JM, Vermeer C, Grobbee DE, et al. Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: the Rotterdam Study. J Nutr. 2004;134(11):3100-5.
- Gast GC, de Roos NM, Sluijs I, et al. A high menaquinone intake reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2009;19(7):504-10.
- Beulens JW, Bots ML, Atsma F, et al. High dietary menaquinone intake is associated with reduced coronary calcification. Atherosclerosis. 2009;203(2):489-93.
- Kurnatowska I, Grzelak P, Masajtis-Zagajewska A, et al. Effect of vitamin K2 on progression of atherosclerosis and vascular calcification in nondialyzed patients with chronic kidney disease stages 3-5. Pol Arch Med Wewn. 2015;125(9):631-40.
- Nickolas TL, Stein EM, Dworakowski E, et al. Rapid cortical bone loss in patients with chronic kidney disease. J Bone Miner Res. 2013;28(8):1811-20.
- Watanabe R, Lemos MM, Carvalho AB, et al. The association between coronary artery calcification progression and loss of bone density in non-dialyzed CKD patients. Clin Nephrol. 2012;78(6):425-31.
- Maresz K. Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2015;14(1):34-9.
- Hauschka PV. Osteocalcin: the vitamin K-dependent Ca2+-binding protein of bone matrix. Haemostasis. 1986;16 (3-4):258-72.
- Braam LA, Hoeks AP, Brouns F, et al. Beneficial effects of vitamins D and K on the elastic properties of the vessel wall in postmenopausal women: a follow-up study. Thromb Haemost. 2004;91(2):373-80.
- Zittermann A. Effects of vitamin K on calcium and bone metabolism. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2001;4(6):483-7.
- Jie KS, Bots ML, Vermeer C, et al. Vitamin K intake and osteocalcin levels in women with and without aortic atherosclerosis: a population-based study. Atherosclerosis. 1995;116(1):117-23.
- Stompor T, Winiarska A. Vitamin K in chronic kidney disease: time for a (hint of) hope? Pol Arch Med Wewn. 2015;125(9):618-9.
- Purwosunu Y, Muharram, Rachman IA, et al. Vitamin K2 treatment for postmenopausal osteoporosis in Indonesia. J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 2006;32(2):230-4.
- Szulc P, Arlot M, Chapuy MC, et al. Serum undercarboxylated osteocalcin correlates with hip bone mineral density in elderly women. J Bone Miner Res. 1994;9(10):1591-5.
- Vergnaud P, Garnero P, Meunier PJ, et al. Undercarboxylated osteocalcin measured with a specific immunoassay predicts hip fracture in elderly women: the EPIDOS Study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1997;82(3):719-24.
- Knapen MH, Drummen NE, Smit E, et al. Three-year low-dose menaquinone-7 supplementation helps decrease bone loss in healthy postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int. 2013;24(9):2499-507.
- Theuwissen E, Magdeleyns EJ, Braam LA, et al. Vitamin K status in healthy volunteers. Food Funct. 2014;5(2):229-34.
- Knapen MH, Schurgers LJ, Vermeer C. Vitamin K2 supplementation improves hip bone geometry and bone strength indices in postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int. 2007;18(7):963-72.