- with four key nutrients
Your birth attest reveals your actual age but your biological age gives a more accurate picture of your health and life expectancy. Our biological age and cardiovascular health are closely connected, with atherosclerosis and arterial stiffness representing a progressive process that eventually leads to the majority of deaths. Nonetheless, you can do a lot yourself by making sure to get sufficient amounts the nutrients that are most vital for good cardiovascular health. In this article, we will look closer at some current studies of vitamin K2, Q10, selenium, and omega-3, all of which are essential nutrients that prevent, each in their own way, atherosclerosis, arterial stiffness, and premature death as a result of having high heart age.
Biological age is more or less related to cardiovascular health, which is determining for the amount of blood, oxygen, and nutrients that is able to reach our cells, organs, and tissues. Our so-called heart age is based on the assumption that an individual is as old as the condition in which that person’s blood vessels find themselves. Genes, diet, and lifestyle all affect the ageing processes in the blood vessels. It slowly begins in the childhood and can be viewed from two angles, both of which are measurable:
1: Arterial stiffness and loss of elasticity
Arteries are elastic blood vessels that carry arterial blood from the heart to the different tissues in the body. The contractions of the heart cause the blood to flow in rhythmic pulsations (pulsatile flow). The blood vessels must be able to adapt to this temporarily increased blood volume. The elasticity of the blood vessels also helps even out the bloodstream so that it doesn’t only flow when the heart contracts (the systole)
Atherosclerosis is a thickening of the arterial walls that often occurs in the coronary arteries, the brain, and the legs. Atherosclerosis in the heart is also called ischemic heart disease (ischemia = without oxygen). With the passing of time, the progressive atherosclerosis leads to a host of different symptoms such as impaired blood supply. In worst case, there is a risk of myocardial infarction or stroke, which are the leading causes of death in the United States and in Denmark.
Atherosclerosis, cholesterol, and vital antioxidants
Atherosclerosis consists of deposits of calcium, fat, and oxidized LDL cholesterol. Medical science is primarily focused on the heavily criticized cholesterol but it is worth noting that cholesterol is an essential compound that is not in any way dangerous, unless it is oxidized by free radicals.
Once cholesterol oxidizes, it is of no further use to the body. Instead, the oxidized cholesterol is devoured by white blood cells that embed themselves together with the cholesterol in the blood vessel walls. The free radical exposure is heavily increased by things like smoking, stress, inflammation, poisoning, overweight, type 2 diabetes and ageing. Our only source of protection against free radicals is the presence of different kinds of antioxidants.
With regard to atherosclerosis, one should focus a lot more on the body’s calcium uptake and distribution. It is commonly known that vitamin D contributes to the body’s calcium uptake but without vitamin K2, we risk that calcium stays in the blood instead of reaching the tissues that need it and then it does more harm than good.
Vitamin K2 counteracts atherosclerosis by activating different proteins
Vitamin K2 activates a protein called matrix Gla protein (MGP) that is found inside the blood vessels. MGP binds calcium (including the calcium in the cellular walls) which means it removes calcium from the arteries. Vitamin K2 then takes part in the activation of a protein called osteocalcin that helps embed calcium in bone tissue.
In other words, vitamin K2 makes sure to remove calcium from the bloodstream and incorporate it in our bones. That way, the vitamin helps counteract atherosclerosis and osteoporosis at the same time. If you lack vitamin K2, you risk that your arteries get clogged up. That is why vitamin K2 is so important for cardiovascular health. There is even scientific evidence suggesting that the vitamin may reduce beginning atherosclerosis.
Lack of vitamin K2 also increases the risk of arterial stiffness, according to two studies that are published in American Journal of Hypertension and Nephron. Another study that is published in Clinical Nutrition shows that daily supplementation with vitamin K2 lowers the risk of early death caused by heart disease.
We used to get a lot more vitamin K2 from our diets by eating fermented foods. It would be useful if this type of diet had a comeback. What is more, it is essential to distinguish between vitamin K1 and vitamin K2.
The difference between vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 and their sources
Vitamin K1 is needed for blood coagulation. It is found in dark greens such as parsley, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, beans, avocado, and even in apples.
Modern diets and medicine are the cause of widespread deficiencies
Recent studies suggest that lack of vitamin K2 is rather common. Besides our insufficiently balanced diets and an irrational fear of consuming animal fat, lack of vitamin K2 can also occur after prolonged use of medicine such as antibiotics, antacids, acetylsalicylic acid, cholesterol-lowering statins and blood thinners like warfarin and dicumarol that are vitamin K antagonists and prevent blood clots.
How much vitamin K do we need to stay heart-healthy?
We need at least 45 micrograms of vitamin K2 daily to protect against cardiovascular disease, according to a study from Rotterdam, Holland. The study showed that people who ingested 45 micrograms of vitamin K2 daily lived seven years longer on average, compared with people who only got 12 micrograms of the nutrient each day. Although the optimal daily intake has not yet been established, studies suggest that we may benefit from taking much higher doses (90-180 micrograms.) These high doses are recommended for people with advanced atherosclerosis.
Vitamin K2 comes in two forms. One is called K2 MK-7 and stays much longer in the body, which is why it has a better effect on our calcium distribution. It is best to take this form of vitamin K in supplement form.
Supplements of Q10 and selenium may improve cardiovascular health and increase our lifespan
Q10 is a coenzyme that is both important for cellular energy turnover and serves as an antioxidant. When Q10 is transported in the bloodstream it is bound to LDL cholesterol that is a related compound. Thanks to its antioxidant properties, Q10 helps prevent cholesterol from oxidizing.
We synthesize most of our own Q10 but the endogenous production decreases with age. This has negative impact on cardiovascular health.
The widespread selenium deficiency problem is also bad news for our cardiovascular health. Even with a healthy diet, it can be quite a challenge to get enough selenium as a European, simply because the farmland throughout Europe is selenium-depleted.
This may affect our circulatory health, among other things, because selenium supports some very powerful antioxidants known as GPXs (glutathione peroxidase), which no other antioxidants are able to replace. Selenium also helps us make optimal use of Q10.
Because both Q10 and selenium are vital for cardiovascular health we must make sure to get adequate amounts of these two compounds throughout life. Professor Urban Alehagen, a cardiologist who is affiliated with the University of Linköping in Sweden, conducted a study (KiSel-10) where he and his colleagues gave placebo or daily supplements of 200 mg of Q10 and 200 micrograms of selenium to a group of older study participants.
The entire KiSel-10 study included over 400 healthy participants and lasted around five years. The study found that the group that was supplemented with Q10 and selenium had a 54 percent lower cardiovascular mortality rate and a substantially lower hospitalization rate.
Follow-up studies after 10 and 12 years respectively showed that the supplementation had a notable long-term effect on cardiovascular health, heart function, and lifespan. An even greater effect could probably have been expected if people had started using the supplements earlier in life and continued to take the preparations.
Fish oil lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential. Oily fish and fish oil supplements contain the two omega-fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the which body can easily utilize. The omega-3 fatty acids support the omega-6 fatty acids in an intricate biochemical interplay, and it is vital to maintain the proper ratio between the different fatty acids. If we consume too little omega-3 it sets the stage for cardiovascular disorders and many other lifestyle diseases. A large British population study with over 400,000 participants confirms that regular consumption of fish oil supplements benefits the cardiovascular system and contributes to extended lifespan. The study is published in British Medical Journal and supports earlier research. The scientists stress that the quantity of fish oil may be determining for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and other lifestyle diseases. They also mention different mechanisms by which fish oil improves our circulation and health in general, including such things as:
- Blood viscosity (thickness)
- Endothelial cells that line the blood vessels
- Counteraction of arterial stiffness
- Counteraction of blood clots
- Effect on blood pressure
- Effect on heart rhythm
- Triglyceride lowering
- Anti-inflammatory properties
Fish oil from diet and supplements
Only a small percentage of Danes stick with the official dietary guidelines that recommend eating 350 grams of fish per week (hereof 200 grams of oily fish). To make matters worse, farmed fish do not contain optimal levels of omega-3 because they get unnatural feed. It is therefore a good idea to consume free-range salmon, herring, and anchovies from clean waters. Also, try limiting your intake of predatory fish like tuna that tend to accumulate heavy metals. If you dislike the taste of fish or just don’t eat enough seafood you can choose to take a high-quality fish oil supplement or possibly combine supplementation with eating fresh fish. The important thing is to make sure to get enough omega-3.
International experts recommend getting the following amount of EPA/DHA each day:
- 500 mg in order to prevent deficiency
- 1 gram for proactive support of e.g. heart and cardiovascular system
- 2-4 grams for intensive support of e.g. aching joints and inflammation
Other useful tips for cardiovascular health and reduction of your biological age
Ondrej Petrak, Richard Ceska. Vascular age. Vnitr Lek Winter 2020
Stephen Daniells. New Study show importance of vitamin K for vascular function. Nutraingredients.com 2020
S. Thamratnopkoon et al. Correlation of Plasma Desphosporylated Uncarboxylated matrix Gla Protein with Vascular Calcification and Stiffness in Chronic Kidney Disease. Nephron. 2017 Published online.
M Sardana el al. Inactive Matrix GLA-Protein and Arterial stiffness in Type 2 diabetes Mellitus. American Journal of Hypertension 2016
Anna Di Lorenzo et al. Clinical Evidence for Q10 Coenzyme Supplementation in Heart Failure: From Energetics to Functional Improvement. Journal of Clinical Medicine 2020
Alehagen U et al. reduced Cardiovascular Mortality 10 Years after Supplementation with Selenium and Coenzyme Q10 for four years. Follow-Up Results of a Prospective Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled trial in Elderly Citizens. PLoS One 2015
Urban Alehagen et al. Still reduced cardiovascular mortality 12 years after supplementation with selenium and coenzyme Q10 for four years. A validation of previous 10-years follow-up results of a prospective randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial in elderly. PLOS ONE 2018
Zhi-Hao Li et al. Associations of habitual fish oil supplementation with cardiovascular outcomes and all cause mortality: evidence from large population-based cohort study. BMJ 2020
Hemant Mahajan et al. Serum Long-chain n-3 polysaturated fatty acids and aortic calcification in middle-aged men: The population-based cross-sectional ERA-JUMP study. Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases. 2019
Pernille Lund. Sund og smuk – hele livet. Ny Videnskab. 2016
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