Ask people what they know about vitamin C and some will reply it’s good for preventing common colds. Maybe they’d add heart attack, if they’ve read my column. But ask the same question about K2 and most people will give you a blank stare. Now, Dr. Dennis Goodman, cardiologist and Director of Integrative Medicine at New York University, says ignoring vitamin K2 is dangerous.
In 1929 Danish scientist, Dr. Henrik Dam, discovered vitamin K. Since then researchers have discovered two types of K, K1 and K2. Leafy green vegetables are rich in K1. It plays a vital role in blood clotting. But K2 isn’t easy to obtain in the diet, placing many at risk of being deficient of this vitamin.
Goodman, in his book, “K2, the Missing Nutrient for Heart and Bone Health” writes of a connection between bone and heart health. He states, “Few are aware of how K2 aids bone health, but even fewer know how it helps cardiovascular health.”
Years ago Japanese researchers discovered that women living in Tokyo where Natto, a centuries old Japanese food rich in vitamin K2, was consumed, showed increased bone density. But, women in western Japan where Natto is not popular showed lower bone density.
Bones, like other human tissues, are constantly changing. Cells called osteoblasts build up bone and osteoclasts break it down. But after 30 years of age we begin to lose one percent of our bone each year. It’s appalling that by age 70 many people have lost 40 percent of bone mass.
Vitamin K2 has been linked to osteoblasts, which produce a protein called osteocalcin. This protein plays a major role in calcium metabolism and acts like glue to incorporate calcium into bone. This increases bone density and decreases the risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) and bone fractures. Japanese studies show that K2 decreases the risk of vertebral fractures by 60 percent and hip fractures by 80 percent.
But how does vitamin K2 help cardiovascular health? Sir William Osler, Professor of Medicine at McGill University, Montreal, stressed we are as old as our arteries. This means we live longer if we maintain soft flexible arteries. To keep them healthy it’s prudent to keep calcium out of arteries. So K2 places calcium where it belongs, in bones and not in arteries, where it may cause trouble.
For instance, a deficiency of K2 increases the risk that calcium will be deposited into the aorta, the largest artery that carries blood to the rest of the body. Calcium deposits weaken the wall, increasing the risk of rupture and sudden death.
A Rotterdam study of 4,600 men aged 55 and older in Holland showed that a high intake of vitamin K2 decreased the risk of aortic calcification by an amazing 52 percent.
Today, in North America, heart failure is the fastest growing cardiovascular disease. We are all living longer and eventually the heart fails. But it will beat longer if calcium is kept in bones and not deposited in heart valves, where it places more stress on the heart’s muscle.
It’s easy to get enough vitamin K2 if you eat Natto for breakfast. Every year 7.5 billion packages of Natto are sold in Japan. Moreover, the government has made it an integral part of the school breakfast plan.
So am I going to start eating Natto? I doubt it. Why? Because most people, and even some Japanese, find the taste unpleasant. But local Health Food Stores carry various brands of K2 drops including vitamin A and D.
Why the addition of vitamin A and D? Because some people are lacking in calcium and D helps to absorb it. All three vitamins are also critical for bone health. Moreover, as we age, vitamin A helps to improve night vision making driving less dangerous.
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W. Gifford-Jones, MD
Dr. Ken Walker (who writes under the pseudonym of Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, MD)
is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Harvard Medical School. He
trained in general surgery at Strong Memorial Hospital, University of
Rochester, Montreal General Hospital, McGill University and in Gynecology at
Harvard. His storied medical career began as a general practitioner, ship’s
surgeon, and hotel doctor. For more than 40 years, he specialized in
gynecology, devoting his practice to the formative issues of women’s health. In
1975, he launched his weekly medical column that has been published by national and local Canadian and U.S. newspapers. Today, the readership remains over seven million.