Life Extension Magazine November 2011
As We See It
Avoiding the Catastrophic Event
By William Faloon
Human Clinical Data
An interesting study published in 2008 measured the amount of under-carboxylated MGP in the blood of healthy individuals and compared it to those with severe vascular diseases including aortic stenosis. The findings showed that virtually all diseased subjects had under-carboxylated MGP levels below the normal adult range.20 If only these individuals with severe vascular disease had maintained adequate vitamin K status, they may not have been on death’s door.
The most frequently cited data about vitamin K and vascular disease risk came from a study of more than 4,800 subjects who were followed for 7-10 years in the Netherlands. People in the highest one-third of vitamin K2 intake had a 57% reduction in risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared to those with the lowest intake. In the group with the highest vitamin K2 intake, risk of severe aortic calcification plummeted by 52%.2
It is doubtful that any of these European study subjects were taking vitamin K supplements. This means that just the tiny microgram amounts obtained in their diets is what may have produced this 52% reduction in risk of severe aortic calcification.
Based on findings that maximal carboxylation of MGP requires significantly higher levels of vitamin K than obtained through diet, those taking vitamin K supplements might obtain greater benefit.33-36
The missing part of this puzzle is controlled clinical studies showing that vitamin K supplements themselves prevent aortic stenosis. Instead, we rely on intriguing clinical data that consistently show low vitamin K status in those who develop aortic valve calcification.1,35-37 We know that vitamin K is essential for MGP-carboxylation, which in turn shields heart valves and arteries from pathological calcification.37 We also know that vascular calcification is an active and therefore potentially preventable process if vitamin K intake is increased.38,39
Other Factors Involved in Aortic Stenosis
Like the modern day scourge of atherosclerosis, there are many risk factors for aortic stenosis.
While the majority of individuals who develop coronary atherosclerosis do not suffer aortic stenosis, the two diseases nonetheless share common risk factors.44
Those with elevated LDL,45-47 triglycerides,48,49 total cholesterol,50-53 and other atherogenic lipids have higher rates of aortic stenosis. Elevated C-reactive protein levels are also correlated with aortic valve disease.54,55
Underlying conditions that predispose people to coronary atherosclerosis such as hypertension,56-59 smoking,60,61 and diabetes62-64 have been consistently linked to the development of aortic stenosis.
Other factors associated with aortic stenosis include osteoporosis, which is also strongly associated with vitamin K deficit.65-71 Those suffering from elevated blood calcium,72,73 obesity,60,61,74 and renal failure75-77 have higher incidences of aortic stenosis, which is why annual blood testing is so important to identify correctable problems before irreversible disease takes hold.
Please remember that the use of calcium supplements is not the cause of increased blood calcium levels. Healthy persons have an intricate regulatory system that precisely controls how calcium is utilized in the body. When calcium is deficient in the blood, parathyroid hormone acts to remove it from the bone to ensure blood levels are maintained.78
Without adequate calcium intake, parathyroid hormone will continue to remove calcium from bone to the point that a person becomes osteoporotic. Since calcium is required for vital life functions beyond bone density, the body will continuously rob bones of calcium to ensure stable blood levels if there is not sufficient intake from diet or supplements. So the body makes sure there is always enough calcium in the blood to sustain vital life functions. The side effect of the body’s vigilant maintenance of blood calcium is that this calcium is freely available to calcify tissues (including our heart valves).
In the presence of enough vitamin K, however, calcium binds to the skeletal matrix where it is needed to maintain bone density and is simultaneously inhibited from infiltrating the vasculature (including arteries and valves).79-81
Risk Factors for Aortic Stenosis Overlooked by Most Doctors
In order for calcium to infiltrate the aortic valve, there is first an initial injury to the endothelium (inner vascular lining).82,83 Homocysteine is a prime culprit that causes the initial endothelial injury that leads to atherosclerosis and possibly aortic stenosis later in life.83-85 What conventional doctors fail to acknowledge today is homocysteine’s role in initiating damage to the vascular system.
A group of doctors at the Cleveland Clinic assessed the association between homocysteine levels and various degrees of aortic valve disease in 76 surgical patients. In patients with normal aortic valves, mean homocysteine level was 10.9 (µmol/L). Patients with aortic sclerosis had homocysteine mean levels of 11.4. Those with the more severe aortic stenosis had a significantly higher mean homocysteine level of 15.4! While the small size of this study limited its predictive value, the doctors stated, “It is conceivable that the elevated homocysteine levels seen in patients with renal impairment or older age could contribute to the more rapid progression of aortic stenosis observed in these patient populations.”83
The take-home lesson for anyone concerned about aortic stenosis is that virtually every risk factor for heart attack—be it excess body weight, hypertension, excess blood lipids, and even continued tobacco use—predicts the rate of aortic disease progression.
Triumphs and Tragedy of Jack LaLanne
In December 2009, Jack LaLanne at age 95 underwent aortic valve replacement surgery. A little over 13 months later, he died at age 96 of respiratory failure due to pneumonia. Even in healthy elderly individuals, the traumatic impact of aortic valve surgery can be the “catastrophic event” that leads to a rapid downward spiral culminating in death.
There may never be a better example than Jack LaLanne of someone who did virtually everything right, but appears to have missed out on one key nutrient—vitamin K2—that may have prevented calcification of his aortic valve. Jack LaLanne was a pioneer hero who promoted and followed very healthy lifestyle practices—decades before others knew about them.
When Jack LaLanne first proposed intensive exercise with weights in 1936, mainstream doctors warned that it would cause all kinds of terrible medical problems. This was the same medical establishment who said cigarette smoking was not dangerous. Jack LaLanne not only promoted lifelong physical activity, but also calorie moderation and avoiding all unhealthy foods.
Jack LaLanne’s last book was published in 2003. The supplement regimen he recommended, however, appears to have been trapped in 1970s ideology. He mentioned the importance of vitamin K1 only in the context of normal blood clotting and recommended green leafy vegetables as the main source. We now know, of course, that almost everyone obtains enough vitamin K for their blood to clot, but not nearly enough vitamin K2 to protect against soft tissue calcification.
As we often observe with elderly individuals, they tend to remember facts dating back decades but find new concepts difficult to grasp. Out of enormous respect for Jack LaLanne being scientifically ahead of his time regarding healthy eating and exercise, nowhere in his last book is there any mention about other critical steps that aging men should follow, such as maintaining youthful hormone balance. Low DHEA, for example, can compromise immune function,86-90 and the pneumonia Jack LaLanne acutely died of is common in elderly individuals with weakened immunity.
We don’t know what supplements Jack LaLanne was using, but based on the recommendations made in his last book, there was no mention of omega-3s, CoQ10, amino acids like carnitine, dipeptides like carnosine, vitamin K2, higher-dose vitamin D, or many of the other nutrients that enlightened individuals take today.
In reading Jack LaLanne’s last book (titled Revitalize Your Life), I can confidently state that if everyone in America followed his strict dietary and exercise programs, incidence of today’s major killers would plummet to extremely low levels. Jack LaLanne’s stern recommendations to avoid junk and other unhealthy foods alone could bail this country out of the health care cost crisis it now faces.
At the same time we pay tribute to Jack LaLanne’s foresight, we must acknowledge the lethal consequence of omission. New information is published daily that provides clues as to what aging individuals can do to prevent the lethal “catastrophic event” that initiates a downward spiral of endless degenerative disease. When these clues become substantiated in well-controlled human studies, it is imperative for aging individuals to incorporate them into their own daily programs. We fear Jack LaLanne’s omissions may have created his personal catastrophic event.
Life Extension Members Enjoy Significant Protection
The encouraging news for long-time Life Extension members is that they have been way ahead of the curve in protecting against aortic stenosis. Annual blood tests enable them to take affirmative steps to suppress excess C-reactive protein, LDL, homocysteine, triglycerides, glucose, and other vascular system-destroying factors.97
Members also ingest high-potency supplements that provide 24-hour blood levels of critically important vitamin K2. Long-acting vitamin K2 is emerging as an exciting player in the prevention and potential regression of coronary atherosclerotic plaque.
According to some researchers, vitamin K2 has so many functions not associated with vitamin K1 that it should be viewed as a different vitamin entirely. In the largest human study to date, higher intakes of vitamin K2 reduced cardiovascular issues by 57%, whereas intake of vitamin K1 had no effect.2 Those following certain vegetarian diets may not be getting enough vitamin K2, thus exposing themselves to significant calcification disease risk even though they assume they are eating healthy.
What is not yet known is whether higher intakes of vitamin K2 will reverse aortic calcification. Based on what has been published to date, there is a considerable basis to believe it will inhibit calcification in tissues throughout our aging bodies, thus reducing our odds of encountering the “catastrophic event” that could prematurely terminate our lives.
For longer life,
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