Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. While genetics can put you at an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease, healthy lifestyle choices and a properly balanced diet can lower the likelihood of heart problems. Vitamin K may play an essential role in protecting the cardiovascular system due to its effects on calcium distribution in the human body. Read on to learn more about this crucial nutrient.
What Is Vitamin K?
Vitamin K is one of the 13 essential vitamins that the body requires to work correctly. Because the human body doesn't produce vitamin K on its own, individuals must get the body's entire supply from the foods they consume.
What Does Vitamin K Do in the Body?
The job of Vitamin K is to activate essential proteins and amino acids in the body called Gla-proteins. This plays two important roles in the body:
- Clotting. When activated by vitamin K, proteins allow blood platelets to stick together, creating blood clots when an injury occurs.
- Calcification. Vitamin K activates an amino acid called osteocalcin, allowing it to bind to calcium and form crystals.
What Are the Types of Vitamin K?
There are two primary forms of vitamin K:
Vitamin K1, sometimes referred to by the scientific name phytonadione
Vitamin K2, sometimes referred to by the scientific names menaquinone-4 or menaquinone-7
Studies indicate that vitamin K1 is more effective at supporting blood clotting, while vitamin K2 benefits the calcification process.
What Is Calcium?
Calcium is an essential mineral needed by the body. Like Vitamin K, the body's supply of calcium comes from the intake of food. The body contains more calcium than any other mineral. Calcium serves as an essential building block for teeth and bones. In addition, calcium is required for proper muscle function. The mineral works with potassium to help muscles contract and release. Not only does this allow the muscles to move, but it also provides the power for the heart to pump.
Calcium Deposits in Bones vs. Arteries
Calcification or the formation of crystals that contain calcium can be both beneficial and harmful for the body. The buildup of calcium crystals is necessary to maintain strong teeth and bones. Calcification of arteries in the body can contribute to atherosclerosis. This medical condition is commonly referred to as the hardening of the arteries. When the arteries harden, it becomes more difficult for blood to pass through freely, leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. It's important to note that an overabundance of calcium in the bones can also be problematic, as this can cause painful calcium deposits on the bones.
The Importance of Calcium Distribution
In the human body, 99 percent of calcium is meant to be found in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1 percent is spread across other tissues and organs. The proper distribution of calcium in the body is essential to health. When calcium is distributed correctly, strong bones and teeth can be maintained, and the risk of coronary artery calcification drops. Unfortunately, age, hormonal factors and medical conditions can all work against the body, leading to calcium buildup that results in atherosclerotic calcification and bone loss.
How Does Vitamin K Affect the Distribution of Calcium in the Body?
Research shows that vitamin K may help to support the proper distribution of calcium in the body. Some scientific findings include:
- Reduced bone loss. Vitamin K2 has been shown to help minimize bone loss in postmenopausal women. Over time, bone loss can result in osteoporosis, where tiny holes form in the bones. Because of its potential benefits for bone loss, scientists speculate that vitamin K2 may also reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- Less risk of heart disease. One study found that people who took vitamin K2 over a 7 to 10 year period were 57 percent less likely to develop heart disease due to the vitamin's ability to distribute calcium away from the arteries and into the bones.
- Improvements in blood flow. A three-year study showed that the blood vessels of postmenopausal women who took a vitamin K2 supplement showed more elasticity than those who took a placebo. The study concluded that vitamin K2 reduces calcification of the blood vessels, keeping them pliable. Flexible blood vessels allow for better blood flow. As a result, scientists speculate that vitamin K2 may assist with proper blood circulation.
How Do I Know if I Have Vitamin K Deficiency?
Serious vitamin K deficiencies are rare in the United States. The problem occurs mainly in people with celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis, and other conditions that impact nutrient absorption. Individuals who have undergone weight loss surgery may also be more at risk for vitamin K deficiency. Signs of vitamin K deficiency include easy bruising and prolonged bleeding following a wound. A medical provider can order a blood test to check vitamin K levels.
How Do I Get Vitamin K Benefits?
Even though critical deficiencies of vitamin K are uncommon, it's still possible to not consume enough daily to support proper calcium distribution and blood clotting. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables, meat, cheese, eggs, and soybeans. A vitamin K supplement like Body Kitchen’s D + K2 can also be taken to increase the body's supply of the mineral. Supplements are a convenient choice and easier than trying to extract all these nutrients out of foods. Make sure to choose brands that use clinically-studied patents like Body Kitchen does.