Regularly taking medication has become a normal part everyday life. Unfortunately, many are not aware of the potential drawbacks and side effects of their prescriptions. Of specific concern are the cholesterol regulating drugs, statins.
An important characteristic of statins that frequently goes overlooked is its impact on vitamin K. Vitamin K is an important part of wellness and bodily function that is inhibited through the use of statins. Although statins can be useful in treating some patients, their influence on vitamin K causes them to be potentially dangerous and disruptive.
What is Vitamin K?
All forms of vitamin K are fat soluble and are necessary for various bodily function and biochemical reactions. Vitamin K is unlike many other vitamins in that it is composed of various different forms rather than being a singular substance. The two primary forms of vitamin K are K1 and K2. K1, also known as phylloquinone or phytonadione, is primarily found in green leafy vegetables including lettuce, broccoli, and spinach. K2 or menaquinones (MK) and can be found in a variety of food sources or synthesized from K1. Within K2, there are multiple types of MKs. For example, MK-4 is found in animal meat, while MK-7, MK-8, and MK-9 are readily available in fermented dairy products such as cheese and natto. These nutrients are important in maintaining various aspects of health.
Vitamin K, specifically K2, is greatly involved in blood clotting, energy production, and the proliferation of antioxidants. Vitamin K2 is also tasked with transporting calcium to essential areas in the body including the bones and teeth. This attribute of K2 is perhaps the most impactful as it supports removal of calcium from the arteries and soft tissues. A deficiency of K2 frequently results in greater calcification of the arteries. This is dangerous because, as arterial calcium levels rise, the risk of developing heart conditions and the likelihood of heart and stroke increases.
Symptoms of vitamin K deficiency include:
- Blood in stools
- Easily bruised
- Heavy periods
- Increase in bleeding
The risk of vitamin K deficiency increases if a person has a chronic health issue that inhibits nutrient absorption. Other possible contributors of deficiency include poor diet, liver disease, antibiotics, blood thinners, and various medications. One of the greatest medicinal contributors to vitamin K deficiency are statins.
Are Statins A Source of Concern?
Statins are a very common medication in the United States. Over 25% of Americans over the age of 45 take statins. Because statins lower cholesterol, they are often employed for the treatment of heart disease. However, a cholesterol deficiency, possibly caused by long-term statin use, can inhibit nutrient absorption and healthy bacterial activity. This increases the likelihood of developing a deficiency of important nutrients such as vitamin K2.
Statins are also associated with significant risks and side effects. According to the 2014 consumer update released by the US Food and Drug Administration, statin drugs are associated with a greater potential for liver damage, memory loss, muscle damage, and diabetes. One of the major issues with statins is that they inhibit the synthesis and functionality of vitamin K2.
The influence of statins of K2 may also increase the risk of developing the following symptoms and conditions.
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- Heart attack
- Inappropriate calcification resulting in heel spurs, kidney stone, etc.
- Neurological disorders
Combatting Deficiency and the Effects of Statins
Although vitamin K deficiency is considered relatively rare among adults, the regular usage of statins increases that risk significantly. If deficiency does occur, it can lead to serious dysfunction and greatly increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. If statins are recommended by a doctor or a necessary component of treatment, it is important to counteract the inhibitive effects of statins by supplementing or increasing intake of vitamin K2.
Getting the Vitamin K the Body Needs
Perhaps the best method of acquiring vitamin K is through diet. Whole foods such as green plants, raw foods, fermented dairy products, fish, and eggs provide plenty of both K1 and K2. The following collection of foods are some of the best sources of K2 and may help protect the heart and reduce or prevent statin damage.
- Brussels sprouts
- Dandelion greens
- Mustard greens
- Sea vegetables
- Spring onions
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
In addition to the protective properties of vitamin K2, this powerful vitamin may provide other benefits. A study published in Thrombosis and Haemostasis stated that supplementation with K2 may positively affect the aging process and limit the stiffening of artery walls in postmenopausal women. Daily intake of 180 micrograms of vitamin K2 over a three-year period showed significant improvement of vascular elasticity, according the researchers from VitaK at the Masstricht University Holding. Therefore, increasing intake of vitamin K2 may be a worthwhile endeavor even for those not taking statins.
If electing to use a supplemental form of vitamin K2, the ideal form is MK-7, which is extracted from natto. It is important to always supplement safely as high doses of vitamin K may interfere with absorption of other nutrients. If you have had a recent stroke, heart attack, or frequently develop blood clots speak with a physician before supplementing with vitamin K. Those who are pregnant, or nursing should avoid supplementing with vitamin K.
The purpose of statins is to improve heart health by lowering cholesterol. Although statins do reduce cholesterol levels, they also block the absorption and production vitamin K2 thereby increasing the risk and severity of cardiac disease. Ideally, statins are avoided but in some cases statins usage may be deemed necessary.
If you are currently taking statins, or simply want to support heart health, increasing K2 consumption or supplementing with vitamin K can help protect against heart disease and promote greater wellness.
1. Statin Use Inhibits Vitamin K2. Mercola. https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/06/03/statins-inhibit-vitamin-k2.aspx
2. Should vitamin K2 also be recommended for statin users? NutraIngredients. https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2015/05/20/Should-vitamin-K2-also-be-recommended-for-statin-users
3. Beyond Statins and CoQ10: How about Vitamins D and K2? Dr. Nibber. https://drnibber.com/beyond-statins-and-coq10-how-about-vitamins-d-and-k2/
4. Vitamin K Plays a Role When Taking Statin Medications – Informed Opinion. Natural Health Research Institution. http://www.naturalhealthresearch.org/vitamin-k-plays-role-taking-statin-medications-informed-opinion/
5. Vitamin K Deficiency, Foods & Health Benefits. Dr. Axe. https://draxe.com/vitamin-k-deficiency/