Health Matters

How does Vitamin K prevent arterial calcification?


Artery walls contain smooth muscle cells that help control vessel tone, diameter and thus blood pressure. These cells use vitamin K to produce/secrete large amounts of a protein called ‘mature matrix-Gla-protein’ (MGP).

MGP is a strong inhibitor of arterial-wall calcification. Studies show that when animals can’t make MGP:

  1. For genetic reasons, or
  2. Because they are given warfarin

extensive calcification of large arteries occurs within 4 weeks of birth.

In the latter case warfarin stops vitamin K being utilised in the final step of MGP production. This means an immature form of MGP is produced/secreted. Unfortunately this immature MGP fails to prevent arterial calcium deposition, and arteries start to harden. In this way, warfarin intake can cause an artificial vitamin K insufficiency and eventually cause atherosclerosis.

Vitamin K insufficiency/deficiency can occur for other reasons:

  1. Low dietary intake (significant but underappreciated cause)
  2. disturbed intestinal vitamin K absorption due to gastrointestinal disorders,
  3. antibiotic therapy.

Artery walls have huge stresses (wear & tear) on them every second of every day as they are forced to endlessly expand/stretch and recontract due to pressure changes from the beating heart.

Vessel walls tissues are also highly metabolically active and so in healthy (nutrient-replete) persons, vessel-wall-cells have the wherewithal to continually repair and maintain both themselves and wall tissues. In unhealthy persons (with multiple-nutrient-deficits), vessel-wall-cells eventually cannot meet the physiological demands placed upon them by the high-stress environment. They fail to complete the necessary repairs to maintain themselves and arterial-wall structural integrity. Pathological wall changes begin to appear. According to this model, cardiovascular disease can be viewed as primarily a dietary deficiency disease

Under normal/physiological conditions calcium and phosphate exceed their solubility in most tissues, but calcification is prevented by circulating and locally produced calcification inhibitors. In contrast, under ‘pathologic (nutrient depleted) conditions  insufficient anti-calcification factors are made, and instead, in response to the continued stress:

  1. Some artery-wall-cells undergo apoptosis (they die),
  2. Bits of dead cells (apoptotic bodies) and other signals alert/bring-in platelets and immune system cells,
  3. Platelets bind to damaged vessel-walls releasing calcification-promoting factors
  4. remaining artery-wall cells respond to these signals by synthesizing all components of atherosclerotic lesions including calcium-depositing proteins
  5. and mineralization occurs

Vitamin K via MGP, inhibits calcification by blocking:

  1. calcium-depositing proteins production [osteopontin, osteocalcin and Cbfa1]
  2. calcium deposition – binds calcium salts
  3. pro-calcification cell-signals production:
    1. apoptotic bodies
    2. matrix vesicles
    3. hormonal signals such a BMP 2 & 4
  4. covering and stopping growth of existing calcium micro-deposits

So, to help avoid hardening of your arteries just eat as much natto and fresh leafy greens as you can.

Article Written + Submitted by:

Andreas Klein Nutritionist + Remedial Therapist from Beautiful Health + Wellness
P: 0418 166 269

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