Scientists have found another reason for children to eat their green leafy vegetables.
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.
“Those who consumed less had more risk,” says Dr. Norman Pollock, 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. Unlike other muscles, a larger heart can become inefficient and ineffective.
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.
Changes were independent of other factors known to influence heart structure and function, including sex, race, body composition, physical activity and blood pressure, says Mary Ellen Fain, the study’s co-first author.
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.
“They had higher levels relative to the other kids,” Fain said. “But even at that age, it seemed to make a difference in their hearts.” Fain and Pollock noted that it was clear than none of the participants consumed large amounts of the vitamin.
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.
Like matrix Gla protein, vitamin K is essential to increased production of osteocalcin, a protein hormone important to bone metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
Further study is needed to clarify the importance of vitamin K1 intake to cardiovascular development and to better understand how vitamin K dependent proteins aid cardiovascular development and health, the scientists note.
The short-acting vitamin is active only about six hours after it’s consumed.