Leafy greens for longer life: Higher levels of vitamin K in older adults may lower risk of death

BOSTON — Vitamin K often falls by the wayside to more popular vitamins like C or D. A new multi-ethnic study, however, shows that vitamin K can offer some serious health and longevity benefits for older individuals.

Researchers from Tufts University note that older adults with low levels of vitamin K were more likely to pass away within 13 years in comparison to similarly-aged peers with higher levels.

Vitamin K is prevalent in a number of common vegetables. Leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, and spinach contain especially high levels. Vegetable oils like soybean or canola oil are also great sources.

Does vitamin K impact heart health?

In all, close to 4,000 Americans were analyzed for this research, all between the ages of 54 and 76. A third of the participants were of ethnicities other than Caucasian.

Participants were placed into separate groups depending on the levels of vitamin K detected in their blood. Then, over the next 13 years, each group’s risk of heart attack and death was compared against one another.

Regarding heart disease, vitamin K levels don’t seem to have much of an impact. But, those with the lowest levels of the vitamin in their blood had a 19% greater chance of dying over the 13-year follow up period in comparison to participants who showed at least “adequate vitamin K intake.”

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“The possibility that vitamin K is linked to heart disease and mortality is based on our knowledge about proteins in vascular tissue that require vitamin K to function,” says first study author Kyla Shea in a release. “These proteins help prevent calcium from building up in artery walls, and without enough vitamin K, they are less functional.”

Improved vascular health

Vitamin K is very important for blood vessel health, researchers say. This only adds to its lifespan-lengthening potential.

“Similar to when a rubber band dries out and loses its elasticity, when veins and arteries are calcified, blood pumps less efficiently, causing a variety of complications. That is why measuring risk of death, in a study such as this, may better capture the spectrum of events associated with worsening vascular health,” says last study author Dr. Daniel Weiner, a nephrologist at Tufts Medical Center.

The authors admit that this research is ultimately observational, meaning it can not establish a clear cut causal relationship between vitamin K and a longer life. Researchers were also sure to account for other potentially influential factors during their statistical analysis, such as age, gender, race, BMI, blood pressure readings, medication use, and smoker status.

The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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