Scientists have found another reason for children to eat their green leafy vegetables- Vitamin K.
A study of 766 otherwise healthy adolescents showed that those who consumed the least vitamin K1- found in spinach, cabbage, iceberg lettuce and olive oil, were at 3.3 times greater risk for an unhealthy enlargement of the major pumping chamber of their heart, according to the study published in The Journal of Nutrition. Vitamin K1, or phylloquinone, is the predominant form of vitamin K in the U.S. diet.
“Those who consumed less had more risk,” says Dr. Norman Pollock, bone biologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and the study’s corresponding author.
Overall, about 10 percent of the teens had some degree of this left ventricular hypertrophy, Pollock and his colleagues report.
Left ventricular changes are more typically associated with adults whose hearts have been working too hard, too long to get blood out to the body because of sustained, elevated blood pressure. The scientists believe theirs is the first study exploring associations between vitamin K and heart structure and function in young people. While more work is needed, their findings suggest that early interventions to ensure young people are getting adequate vitamin K1 could improve cardiovascular development and reduce future disease risk, they write.
In the 14-18 year olds who consumed the least vitamin K1, the study found the overall size and wall thickness of the left ventricle were already significantly greater and the amount of blood the heart pumped out significantly lower, Pollock says.
Only 25 percent of the teens in the study met current adequate intake levels of the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, Pollock notes.
Vitamin K is known to be important to blood clotting and healthy bones. There is increasing evidence of its cardiovascular impact as well. For example, one direct, negative impact of low vitamin K intake on the heart may be reduced activity of matrix Gla protein, which helps prevent calcium deposits on blood vessel walls.
Further study is needed to clarify the importance of vitamin K1 intake to cardiovascular development and to better understand how vitamin K dependent proteins, like matrix Gla protein, aid cardiovascular development and health, the scientists note.