Almost every day, researchers learn more about the many benefits to vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. But as my friend Dr. George Lundberg — former Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association and founding editor of Medscape — pointed out to me recently, our basic knowledge of vitamin K still lags far behind.
So far, research shows vitamin K helps prevent calcification (and hardening) of soft tissues such as blood vessels that need to remain elastic and flexible. We also know vitamin K has an important role in the formation of healthy bones. Third, we know vitamin K helps with the function of insulin to lower blood sugar and nourish the cells with needed calories.
We also know common prescription medications interfere with vitamin K, as they do with other vitamins.
For example, if you take the drug warfarin as a blood-thinner, vitamin K supplementation can help with the detrimental side effects. Drug manufacturers know about these win-win combinations — but they don’t offer the combinations in their products.
True “complementary medicine” would pair prescribing warfarin together with taking vitamin K. Just as patients who take metformin should take B vitamins. But as I reported recently, doctors still debate the obvious, when essentially everyone should take a B vitamin supplement. Likewise, anyone who takes the dangerous cholesterol-lowering statin drugs should also take Co-Q10. (Though hopefully readers at risk of its complications don’t still take this dangerous drug.)
As with other vitamins, the more we learn about their benefits, the more we also realize that deficiency is common. As with vitamin D, the measurement of vitamin K deficiency based on blood tests remains imperfect. (You can learn more about the pitfalls of vitamin D blood testing in the upcoming February issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter.)
Of course, the levels in the cells, tissues, and bones — where vitamin K has its effect — are what really count. And those levels are hard to measure.
Which presents some big problems for your health.
The missing link for healthy bones
Vitamin K may be the missing link to help prevent fractures due to osteoporosis and osteopenia.
In one trial, researchers gave 5 mg of vitamin K1 daily to 440 postmenopausal women with osteopenia. They observed a 50 percent reduction in fractures compared to women who didn’t take vitamin K1.
In a meta-analysis of studies, researchers found 45 mg per day of vitamin K2 reduced hip fractures by 77 percent, spine fractures by 60 percent, and other fractures by 81 percent.
I hope this line of research continues, as drugs given for osteoporosis are ineffective and dangerous. They poison one major type of bone cell that is critical for healthy bones, so patients end up building new bone on a rotten foundation. This practice results in no fewer bone fractures with a drug whose purpose is to prevent fractures.
Plus, as I often warn, calcium supplements are ineffective and potentially dangerous. Instead, you must get your calcium from the foods you eat. Unfortunately, getting enough calcium from the diet can be difficult — especially if you don’t eat enough cheese, dairy, fish, and meat. One supplement you can take is 10,000 IU per day of vitamin D, which helps ensure your body absorbs and metabolizes calcium from your diet.
Vitamin K also seems to help prevent another, even deadlier disease.
Repair heart disease at the source
There are many theories as to what causes atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis of the arteries, which is the basis of all cardiovascular diseases. But one thing we know for sure: It begins with damage to the linings of the blood vessels. And the higher the blood pressure, the greater the potential for damage.
The body repairs the damage to the arteries, but these areas can then become calcified, which leads to hardening and narrowing of the arteries and reduced blood flow. Heart attacks, strokes, and problems with peripheral blood flow stem from this common problem.
The mainstream has chased the theory that cholesterol is the culprit in this process. But in my view, much more compelling evidence shows high homocysteine levels damage arteries — which B vitamins can prevent. Ultimately, you must stop this calcification to block end-stage arterial damage.
And here is where vitamin K may provide a key.
In a three-year clinical trial involving 452 patients, vitamin K significantly delayed calcification in blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. In another trial, vitamin K delayed arterial deterioration in 181 postmenopausal women at increased risk of heart attack. Furthermore, statistical studies show vitamin K can also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, heart disease deaths, and overall death rates.
So — in addition to the direct effects on arterial health — vitamin K may reduce cardio-metabolic risks through its effect on insulin.
It’s apparent people need both vitamins K1 and K2. And they may get enough in the diet. But the picture is still evolving — since both measurement of dietary intake and measurement of blood and tissue levels are unclear.
In terms of supplementation, studies suggest that 5 mg of vitamin K1 and 45 mg of vitamin K2 daily benefit bone and blood vessel health. Though, if you take the prescription drug warfarin, make sure to discuss vitamin K supplementation with your doctor before beginning any new regimen.
Before you reach for a vitamin K supplement, consider this proven alternative
While doctors continue to debate vitamin K, interestingly, researchers observe these very same kind of blood vessel benefits for blueberry. So blueberry is a fantastic option at the moment, since the research may not be quite there yet for me to recommend any supplement with vitamin K.
You can now get this “super food” in a convenient, water-soluble, powdered packet. You can learn more about the benefits of blueberry in the January 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re a subscriber, you can access this issue on my website, www.drmicozzi.com, with your username and password. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.
- “The health benefits of vitamin K,” Open Heart (www.openheart.bmj.com) 10/6/2015