The link between diet and heart health has been long established. Foods with high amounts of saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar have been shown to cause cardiovascular disease, increase one’s risk of stroke and lead to other heart-related complications. On the other hand, eating a diet rich in vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains protects the heart and keeps it pumping as it should.
Even today, researchers are still finding out which foods are good for the heart and which ones you should steer clear of. Now, Edith Cowan University scientists have discovered that two types of a key vitamin–found in green leafy vegetables as well as meat and cheese–both have significant cardiovascular benefits.
What is vitamin K?
Vitamin K has two forms. One form, vitamin K1, is found primarily in green leafy vegetables and certain types of berries, while another form, vitamin K2, is found in various animal products including chicken, beef, and eggs. Both types of vitamin K have numerous benefits for the body, particularly the cardiovascular system, and interestingly, the two forms affect the heart in slightly different ways, according to a recent study by Edith Cowan University.
Researchers examined data from the 50,000-person Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health study, which took place over a 23-year period. They aimed to determine if participants who ate vitamin K-containing foods had a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases related to atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries). Diseases in this category include coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, and peripheral artery disease.
The team of researchers, led by Drs Nicola Bondonno and Jamie Bellinge, discovered that a high vitamin K1 intake was associated with a 21 percent lower risk of hospitalization for atherosclerosis-related cardiovascular disease, while a diet high in vitamin K2 led to a 14 percent lower risk.
According to Dr. Bondonno, the protective effects of vitamin K on the heart may be due to the vitamin preventing calcium buildup in the arteries. It is important to recognize that some patients who are on Warfarin (Coumadin) must be careful about Vitamin K containing food consumption.
“Although more research is needed to fully understand the process, we believe that vitamin K works by protecting against the calcium build-up in the major arteries of the body leading to vascular calcification,” she said.
The benefits of including vitamin K-rich foods of any type in one’s diet are now apparent. But it can be difficult for the average consumer to know which foods contain this essential nutrient. Knowing this, Dr. Bondonno emphasized the need for the creation of a more comprehensive database cataloguing foods high in both vitamin K1 and K2.
“The next phase of the research will involve developing and improving databases on the vitamin K2 content of foods. More research into the different dietary sources and effects of different types of vitamin K2 is a priority,” said Bondonno.
If you’ve suddenly developed the urge to up your vitamin K intake, here are some foods you can look out for the next time you’re at the grocery store.
- Brussels sprouts
- Pork chops
- Various cheeses
Getting vitamin K in foods is best, but if you feel you need supplementation, check with your healthcare professional to determine the best resource for you. Caution about the interaction with Warfarin (Coumadin) is warranted.
Written by Natan Rosenfeld