“If calcium is so bad for my heart, why should I be
taking a calcium supplement for my bones?”
This is a question I hear frequently in my office and one that
causes me great concern.
Bone health is important throughout your life. Osteoporosis
and bone fractures, similar to cardiovascular disease, are
not just the problems of old age. Like the heart and the blood
vessels, the health of our bones is something we usually
do not think about much. Then, a problem arises—such as
a hip fracture—and just like the cardiovascular system, it is
too late to make any real impact.
The one thing most people will do to support their bone
health is take a calcium supplement, which is important due to
the fact our bodies cannot produce calcium on their own, and
calcium plays a role in many of the body’s systems. But too
much calcium in the body left unattended can have a negative
effect, such as depositing in the arteries and blood vessels
causing calcification. This calcification causes stiffening that
puts a strain on the cardiovascular system.
When my friend, an integrative general practitioner, asked
if I was recommending vitamin K2 to my patients, I was
surprised. What is vitamin K2? I decided to find out. I was
shocked—and excited—at how much good research supported
this nutrient for bone and heart health.
The discovery of this amazing body of research was
the motivation behind my new book, “Vitamin K2: The
Missing Nutrient for Heart and Bone Health.” It is important
that patients as well as health care professionals understand
the benefit of this important nutrient and the scientific
evidence supporting it.
What is Vitamin K2?
Vitamin K2 is part of the vitamin K family, a group of fatsoluble
vitamins. Vitamin K is split into two groups: vitamin
K1 and vitamin K2. The difference lies on a molecular level.
Vitamin K1 has one molecule, so it is a phylloquinone. The K2
group has multiple molecules and known as menaquinones.
While K vitamins are crucial for blood clotting, vitamin K2,
unlike K1, is utilized by the liver and then is available to tissues
beyond the liver, such as the bones, arteries and blood vessels. So why is vitamin K2 so valuable?
Simply put, vitamin K2 is the body’s light switch. It
activates or “turns on” important proteins in the body such as
osteocalcin for strong bones and the matrix Gla protein (MGP)
in the arteries and blood vessels. By turning on these vitamin
K2 dependent proteins, calcium is kept out of the arteries
(where it can cause hardening of arteries and blockages) and
transported and kept in the bones where it belongs.
Although vitamin K2 is a relative newcomer to the
supplement arena, I believe there is now enough scientific
evidence to make you take notice and add it to your list of
essential nutrients. While I will focus on vitamin K2’s proven
cardiovascular benefits, a multitude of studies have also
demonstrated vitamin K2’s effectiveness for bone health and
children’s health. And more research is being done every day
to support its benefits in these crucial areas to the general
Let’s start with the evidence of vitamin K2’s role in calcification.
The landmark Rotterdam population cohort study
examined vitamin K2 in a normal human population, and was
the first large clinical study to suggest the huge impact vitamin
K2 may play in reducing cardiovascular events and mortality.
Results among 4,807 healthy individuals (at the start of the
study) age 55 and older, suggested a strong protective effect of
the highest dietary vitamin K2 intake on arterial calcification.
The study showed a reduction in risk for cardiovascular
diseases and cardiovascular disease-related deaths by as
much as 50 percent for subjects who ingested more vitamin
K2. High intakes of vitamin K2 also reduced the all-cause
mortality by 25 percent.
Dietary vitamin K1, obtained from green vegetables,
had no influence on excessive calcium accumulation, even
when consumed in much larger quantities than K2.
Another study in Nutrition, Metabolism, & Cardiovascular
Diseases looked at the effect of vitamin K2 on arterial function,
or the ability to contract and relax blood vessels. A group of
16,057 women (all free of cardiovascular diseases at baseline)
aged 49–70 years were followed for eight years. The final
results were again really promising: K2 vitamins were shown to
reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The risk of coronary
heart disease dropped nine percent for every 10 micrograms
of vitamin K2 (MK-7, MK- 8, and MK-9) subjects consumed.
Vitamin K1 intake had no effect.
If you are still not convinced that vitamin K2 delivers
important cardiovascular benefits, there is one exciting
clinical study that has really captured my attention recently
and was published this year in the journal Thrombosis and
Haemostasis. It shows a nutritional dose (180 mcg) of specific
vitamin K2 called MenaQ7 taken daily for three years not only
inhibited age-related stiffening of the artery walls, but also
made significant improvements in artery flexibility—meaning
calcification was actually regressed, leaving arteries healthier
and more flexible.
This study is a breakthrough because it is the first
intervention trial where the results confirm the association
made by previous population-based studies: that vitamin
K2 intake is linked to cardiovascular risk. According to the
researchers, the data demonstrated that a nutritional dose of
vitamin K2 can in fact promote cardiovascular health.
Completing the Health Picture
The four keys to good health for everyone are nutrition
(including supplements), exercise, stress management and
sleep. Pills alone are not the solution, but I feel very strongly
that supplements fill the nutritional gaps our diets are lacking.
Vitamin K2 should be taken along with vitamin D and calcium,
and it’s best to look for one supplement that contains all
three ingredients combined, especially the clinically studied
MenaQ7 form of vitamin K2 that can be found listed as such
on the nutritional label.
Finally, I want to emphasize that you must be proactive
with your health, and I encourage you to make your doctor
an active partner in your pursuit of well-being. Discuss your
health goals and concerns with your physician for a personal
roadmap on how to get there.