Vitamin K And Heart Disease Deaths

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Heart Disease, Vitamin K

Does Vitamin K Reduce Heart Disease Risk?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

viatmin k and heart diseaseYou are trying to live a heart healthy lifestyle, but it is so confusing. It seems like there are new heart healthy diets, foods, and nutrients each week. How can you possibly keep up?

Some of those “heart healthy” recommendations contradict each other. They can’t all be true. Which should you believe? I will answer that question in my new books “Slaying the Food Myths” and “Slaying the Supplement Myths.

Today, however, I am going to add to your confusion by adding another nutrient, vitamin K, to your “heart healthy” list. When it comes to heart health, vitamin K is a neglected nutrient. Most people think it is just needed for blood clotting. It doesn’t have the recognition and glamor of omega-3s, antioxidants, and polyphenols for heart health. However, recent research suggests it may play a crucial role in protecting your heart. So, I will explain how vitamin K and heart disease are related.

Before, I go into today’s study, let me give you some background information on vitamin K metabolism and heart health.

Metabolism 101: Vitamin K and Heart Disease

viatmin k and heart disease vegetablesVitamin K is a coenzyme for enzymes that add carboxyl groups to proteins. Without going into a lot of boring detail, carboxylated proteins:

  • Are more water soluble. That makes them more efficient at catalyzing metabolic reactions in our cells.
  • Chelate calcium. That allows them to catalyze calcium-dependent reactions.

For this discussion there are 3 kinds of calcium-dependent reactions catalyzed by carboxylated proteins that are important to know:

  • Reactions involved in blood clotting. Hence, vitamin K is essential for blood clotting.
  • Reactions involved in depositing calcium in our bones. Hence, vitamin K is essential for bone formation.
  • Reactions involved in removing calcium deposits from soft tissues. Hence, vitamin K is essential for keeping our arteries clear of calcium deposits.

If you think about those last two reactions, vitamin K deficiency is the worst of all possible worlds. Calcium in our bloodstream is less likely to be deposited in our bones and more likely to be deposited in our arteries. Vitamin K deficiency is bad for bone health and bad for heart health.

There is only one other factoid you need to know to understand the study I will discuss below. Because vitamin K is essential for the carboxylation of certain proteins, the uncarboxylated level of those proteins in the bloodstream can be used as an indirect assay for vitamin K deficiency. That is the assay that was used in this study.

How Was The Study Performed?

viatmin k and heart disease deathsIn this study (I.J. Riphagen et al, Nutrients, 9, 1334; doi: 10.3390/nu9121334, 2017 ) the investigators studied 4275 subjects enrolled in a clinical trial called PREVEND (Prevention of Renal and Vascular End-Stage Disease). The study population was recruited from the city of Groningen in the Netherlands.

In terms of study population characteristics, the average age was 53, the population was 46% male, 94% Caucasian, and 60% of the population already had renal disease at the time of enrollment (The significance of this will be discussed later).

Study participants were followed for 10 years. By then 279 had died, with 74 deaths attributable to heart disease. Here are the results of the study:

  • 30% of the population was vitamin K deficient.
  • Vitamin K deficiency was close to 50% for the elderly and for subjects with hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Vitamin K deficiency was significantly correlated with all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality.

The authors concluded: “Importantly, a low vitamin K status is not only a clinically relevant risk factor for adverse health outcomes, but it may be a modifiable risk factor. Given the availability of vitamin K supplements, vitamin K insufficiency seems an attractive target for preventative intervention. Future prospective clinical trials are needed to investigate whether correction of low vitamin K status can indeed improve health outcomes.”

Pros and Cons of This Study

Cons:

  • This is an association study. It showed that vitamin K deficiency was associated with cardiovascular mortality, but it didn’t show that vitamin K deficiency caused cardiovascular mortality.
  • Kidney disease reduces the efficiency of vitamin K-dependent carboxylation of proteins. This study relied on levels of uncarboxylated protein for determining vitamin K status, and 60% of the subjects had kidney disease. The study might have overestimated the prevalence of vitamin K deficiency.
  • The population of the study were primarily Caucasian from one city in the Netherlands. It is not clear whether these findings would be equally true for other population groups.

Pros:

  • This study is consistent with previous studies. Several other studies have reported a correlation between vitamin K deficiency and either arterial calcification or heart disease risk. At least one study has shown that vitamin K supplementation can reverse arterial calcification.
  • The levels of vitamin K deficiency seen in this study are consistent with previous studies that have measured blood levels of vitamin K directly.

 

Vitamin K1 Versus K2: What Happens Naturally?

 

viatmin k and heart disease vitamin k1 and vitamin k2There are two forms of vitamin K, vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is used for the blood clotting reactions. Vitamin K2 is used for the reactions involving bone formation and removal of calcium from soft tissues. That has led to a vigorous debate about whether vitamin K1 or K2 supplements are better. I won’t get into that debate, because the data aren’t conclusive yet. However, I will point out that there is a natural relationship between vitamin K1 and K2 that has existed for thousands of years.

Vitamin K1 is the primary dietary form of vitamin K. It is found in heart-healthy foods like green leafy vegetables; cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage; and other healthy foods like carrots, blueberries, and asparagus. It is converted to vitamin K2 by our intestinal bacteria. Small amounts of vitamin K2 can also be found in less heart-healthy foods like cheeses, egg yolks, butter, chicken liver, and salami.

Simply put, if we eat healthy foods and have healthy gut bacteria, we get vitamin K1 from our diet, and our gut bacteria make all the vitamin K2 we need. This is a system that has worked well for humankind since the dawn of time. It’s only when we start messing up our diet and our gut bacteria that we need to start arguing about whether vitamin K1 or K2 supplements are better. It’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature.

 

The Bottom Line

 

A recent study in the Netherlands found that:

  • 30% of the population was vitamin K deficient.
  • Vitamin K deficiency was close to 50% for the elderly and for subjects with hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Vitamin K deficiency was significantly correlated with all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality.

The authors concluded: “…a low vitamin K status is not only a clinically relevant risk factor for adverse health outcomes, but it may be a modifiable risk factor. Given the availability of vitamin K supplements, vitamin K insufficiency seems an attractive target for preventative intervention.”

For more details about vitamin K and heart disease and a brief discussion of vitamin K1 and vitamin K2, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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