It's Heart Month in the United States, and with Valentines coming up, it is a perfect time to remind ourselves that the heart is essential to every aspect of our health everyday, not just on February 14th.
Going 100 miles an hour shouldn’t be an excuse for taking our heart health for granted, and what you eat is one of the best ways to support your cardiovascular fitness and heart-healthy energy, so we want to provide you with the easy ways to keep your heart full of joy everyday! And to do that, we need to emphasize the importance of key vitamins so you can make them part of your daily nutrition.
Vitamin D comes in two different varieties, Vitamin D2 from mushrooms and D3 from other sources, it’s vitamin D3 that gets converted to 1,25-OH-D3, the active form of the molecule.
Vitamin K, on the other hand, is a little different. There are two major classes of vitamin K: K1 (phylloquinone, from plants) and K2 (mena, quinone, mostly from animal sources). These larger classifications are then further subdivided into 12 different vitamin K subtypes. The major takeaway here is that, even though vitamin K1 and K2 function mostly the same for heart and bone, vitamin K2 more potently promotes bone health and heart health.
Vitamins D3 & K2 are conventionally known for supporting bone health, but they have major effects everywhere else in your body. The blood your heart pumps comes from your bone marrow, and the balance of minerals like calcium have a huge impact on both, so heart health is actually quite related to bone health.
If you want recipe ideas for how to incorporate this into your daily habits check out my Ebook here.
Common Sources of Vitamin K1
K2 is an animal-based nutrient, whereas K1 comes mostly from plants. The K2 you find in fermented vegetables is actually from the live bacteria’s metabolism, not from the plant itself.
K2 synergizes with vitamin D3 to produce classically-known functions of strengthening bones, but vitamin K plays a crucial role in heart health too.
Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium in your veins, which is a key determinant of atherosclerosis. Without enough K2 or D3, the cells on your blood vessel walls are not able to let vitamin D do it’s work and excess mineral buildup leads to hardening of your arteries. Notably, even though it still plays a major role plant-based K1 doesn’t seem to have the same effectiveness for heart health or bone health.
As you can tell, vitamin D is hard to find from foods. To make matters worse, we hardly spend enough time out in the sun to generate enough ourselves (thank our busy lifestyles of indoor work, plus depleting magnesium levels worldwide, an essential nutrient for vitamin D absorption), so get your levels checked to see if it’s holding you back!
Really, the best way to get your vitamin D is through sunshine, just not too much! The best way to approach this catch-22 is, after getting 5-30 minutes as a light-skinned person or up to 90 minutes if you have darker skin ー you really have to listen to your body for the optimal time ー then put sunscreen on. This ensures that your body gets enough solar radiation to synthesize its own vitamin D, but not too much to cause excessive inflammation, sunburn, and increase your risk of skin cancer. Vitamin D is essential for healthy skin, but excessive sun exposure does not produce extra vitamin D - in fact, the inflammation it causes is detrimental for skin health.
To optimize the function of vitamin D at the cellular level, you have to pay attention to your other nutrients. Magnesium, calcium, and moderate levels of phosphorus can help vitamin D maintain your health, and conversely vitamin D helps these nutrients function too. Similarly, vitamin K is necessary for vitamin D to promote strong bones and the research shows that taking the two together is the best way to improve each other's function on improving bone mineral density.
Some studies show that your body’s ability to make vitamin D is at its highest in the middle of the day, not coincidentally the same time that UV rays are at their most intense. This makes sense, as other research has shown that taking vitamin D at night may interfere with your natural sleep hormone, melatonin. Interestingly, moderate sun exposure is also linked to low nitric oxide levels, which have a direct, positive impact on heart health.
To fully absorb your vitamins K2 and D3, you should consider adding a source of fat, like extra virgin olive oil, and mineral-rich superfoods, like greens and seeds. Any one of these will enhance your absorption, but that might not even be enough. If you supplement, taking your D3+K2 pills with a meal will enhance absorption as well.
If you do choose to supplement with vitamin K2 or vitamin D3, you should know the optimal recommended doses and the potential negative effects of taking too much. The NIH recommends getting 600IU vitamin D per day, but recommendations for vitamin K2 are lacking due to how new the research on the unique effects of vitamin K2 vs. K1 is. Previous research showed that K1 (phylloquinone, from plants) was more poorly absorbed than in supplement form, but K2 (menaquinone, mostly from animal foods, and probably the more bioactive and powerful nutrient) is poorly absorbed all around.
If you want a supplement that actually works like it says it should, look for a multimineral-multivitamin with K2, D3, Magnesium, and take it with a meal. Don’t forget to always look for a seal of approval from a third-party tester at the minimum, but really you should look for the mark of the best: NSF or BSCG certification.
If you are taking blood thinners, talk with your healthcare provider before adding significant amounts of vitamin K in your diet. Vitamin K acts directly against the mechanism of many blood thinners like warfarin/heparin. It is unlikely, if not impossible, to overdose on either vitamin according to the NIH, but excessive supplementation is not without harm.
The positive effect that taking care of your heart echoes through every layer of your body. Cardiovascular health includes the health of your blood, but also that of your heart, arteries, blood veins, and capillaries ー which are all made up of collagen-containing connective tissues. Not only does cardiovascular health lead to better circulation, nutrient delivery, and oxygenation, but many of the nutrients essential for heart health also promote the health of your musculoskeletal system. Vitamin D and vitamin K are excellent examples.
Vitamin D’s positive effect on heart health extends to bone health, most people are familiar with that, but Vitamin D affects your softer connective tissues as well.
Studies suggest that vitamin D helps regulate bone-formation and bone-destruction cells, which involves first making collagen cells and then strengthening them in different ways to form bones or fascia or cartilage. Among people with inflammation of their connective tissues, like arthritis, vitamin D appears to improve cartilage cell health and function.
Low vitamin D levels may contribute to muscle pain, but the research is not yet certain if vitamin D has a substantial impact on other components of your connective tissue system like tendons and ligaments. I mentioned earlier how important vitamin D is for healthy skin, that’s because of the way it promotes healthy collagen formation, and collagen is the single largest and most important component of your skin.
I developed a supplement specifically tailored to promoting heart health and connective tissue health with the unique combination of natural nitric oxide-boosting nitrates, hydrolyzed collagen peptides, and a number of targeted antioxidants and bioactives that are supported by science to promote heart health, connective tissue health, and whole-body support. Check it out here for more information.
Vitamin K also has significant effects on your connective tissues beyond just improving the delivery of nutrients through optimal blood function. Vitamin K is a crucial, and overlooked, vitamin for mineral and collagen deposition that strengthens the cartilage. It appears that vitamin K2 deficiency may be associated with increased risk of osteoarthritis. Vitamin K’s cellular function applies to all collagenous connective tissues, so whether its your skin, ligaments, cartilage, bone, or the collagen lining your blood vessels, K2 helps preserve the integrity of your structural systems by preventing calcification and hardening of your connective tissues.
Needless to say, if you have greater needs due to an injury or hard and long training sessions, then you likely need to up your intake or consider a supplement.
I want to help make eating for optimal heart health easier, so here’s a sample recipe from my new ebook: “Recover Every Layer of Your Body.” Check out (if you haven’t already) this book because it is a veritable treasure trove of practical science based tips to improve your heart health, recovery and inflammation, and connective tissue health.
I pair the nutritional powerhouse of salmon with some of the best sources of minerals and often-overlooked vitamin K2.
Soy isoflavones are powerful bioactive antioxidants suggested to improve bone mineral density (Liu et al.), and fermented soy (like tempeh and tofu) is the best dairy-free source of the underappreciated and under-consumed bioactive, vitamin K2, which has been shown to have a critical role for your heart, bone, and joint health (Inaba et al.; Vossen et al.)
You may have heard about vitamin K in kale already, but why hasn’t vitamin K2 reached headline status? It takes time for research to trickle down to consumers and health professionals, and we at Resync are at the cutting edge of research.
Other nutrients essential for bone recovery are a bit more well-known: calcium and vitamin D are the go-tos, but also magnesium, copper, phosphorous, silica, boron, collagen amino acids lysine, proline, and glycine, vitamins C, D, E, A, and K, plus natural inorganic nitrates that help improve the delivery of those nutrients to where they need to go. I bet you didn’t know there was so much to make strong bones!
When you go through all the layers of the body, from the most superficial appearance of your skin to the deepest internal structures, you see that your entire health is connected, from bones to your blood and heart health. And eating well for every layer of your body, doesn’t need to be complicated.
Sample my recipes and you will feel a world of difference. Get ready to put your best foot forward!
If you found this article helpful, you’ll really like this article: “Resync your Heart on World Heart Day” and I have a whole page of resources over on the heart health section of my website.
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Wishing you the best in your health,
The Resync Team
Written by Barbara Depta and registered dietitian, Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN
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