Arterial stiffness, and specifically stiffness of the aorta, is an important early indicator of a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease. The aorta is the largest artery in the body and, when kept in good health, it contributes to the health of all other internal organs. Running between the chest and abdomen parallel to the spine, the aorta is a key piece of the body’s circulatory system and it’s in our best interest to keep it, along with our other arteries, flexible and in full working order. Vitamin K2 is one of the essential vitamins that significantly contributes to arterial flexibility.
What Is Vitamin K?
There is a lot less general knowledge around vitamin K than some of its counterparts -- vitamins C and D, for instance, which famously contribute to immune system health and overall happiness. Despite its lacking reputation, however, vitamin K is no less important.
There are several different types of vitamin K; most notably K1 and K2. As a whole they help the body with blood clotting, heart health and bone health. As much as 90% of the vitamin K we consume through our diet is K1, from foods like kale, spinach and broccoli.
K2, which will be the focus for the rest of this article, is less commonly found in the western diet. This may explain why heart disease is the number one killer in the developed world. This essential vitamin is most known for its effect at reducing calcium buildup in the arteries, which contributes to their stiffness and subsequently increases risk for disease.
Sources of Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 is found mainly in fermented foods like natto (a Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans) and some animal products, and is also produced by bacteria in the large intestine. Below is a list of food sources rich in K2 adapted from information at PubMed.gov:
- Pork sausage
- Hard cheese
- Pork chop (with bone)
- Chicken (leg/thigh)
- Soft cheese
- Egg yolk
The daily recommended intake of vitamin K for adults is approximately 120 micrograms (mcg) for males and 90 mcg for females. As a reference point, natto is the most nutritious source of vitamin K (specifically K2) with 850 mcg/serving. Collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, kale and broccoli, all key sources of K1, also provide enough to meet the daily recommended intake, although unless you’re eating natto daily it’s unlikely that you’ll get enough K2 through diet alone.
For many people, the easiest and most efficient way to work vitamin K2 into the diet is through supplementation. A number of options exist here, although MenaQ7 stand out as an authority and come highly recommended by us here at iHeart.
What Is Arterial Stiffness?
Much like the stiffness many of us experience over time in our joints and muscles, our arteries too will stiffen with age. The ramifications of this process can have deadly effects on our internal organs. With increasing frequency, studies are being released that prove a correlation between arterial stiffness and risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s. One 2010 study published in the European Heart Journal even provides evidence that arterial stiffness is an indicator of risk of death from all causes.
There are a number of factors that contribute to arterial stiffness such as high blood pressure and calcification (plaque buildup). With poor lifestyle choices, like unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, these problems are brought on more quickly and the arteries stiffen at an increased rate. With this stiffening comes a decrease in internal organ functionality as they receive less support from the ailing circulatory system. This can have fatal consequences.
What Is Arterial Calcification?
Over time, calcium deposits builds up on the inner walls of our arteries. The arteries are smooth and elasticated, designed to stretch to accomodate the swells of blood sent out with each pulse of the heart. This action is restricted as they become more solid when calcium attaches itself to their inner walls. This is also known as plaque buildup.
With this reduced range of elasticity, the arteries are less able to perform their role effectively. In addition to their decreased flexibility, the arteries narrow as their surface is developed upon by plaque, resulting in less blood being able to be sent with each pulse and at a higher pressure.
How Does Vitamin K2 Help With Arterial Stiffening?
Vitamin K2 can help with slowing down and even reversing calcium buildup in the arteries. This prolongs organ health and helps us to live longer and healthier lives. Whether by adapting our diet or introducing supplementation, it’s important that we get enough K2 if we want to reduce our risk of heart disease and brain disease and give our organs the best environment possible to perform their jobs in.
In addition to this, we can also facilitate good arterial health through implementation of healthy lifestyle choices. Exercise of any kind is extremely valuable to the human body, be it a walk in the park or a yoga class or a triathlon. Good nutrition and stress management are two other key categories that must be addressed if we’re to live long, healthy and happy lives.
How To Monitor Your Arterial Stiffness
iHeart is a fingertip device and mobile app that is able to assess the impact of lifestyle choices on your aortic stiffness so that you can immediately observe how certain activities are affecting your organ health. Through a non-invasive, 30-second test, the fingertip device and mobile app measures aortic pulse wave velocity to determine your level of aortic stiffness, as well as your heart rate and blood oxygen levels. This information is then amalgamated to provide you with your internal age so you can easily see what shape your internal organs are in.
If you’re a 50-year old person scoring 25 on the iHeart Internal Age test, you’ll find comfort in the knowledge that you’re clearly making choices that will help to keep your organs in fine working order. If you’re scoring older than your actual age, however, then it may be an indication that some extra effort needs to go into leading a healthy lifestyle!