Cheese: a good natural source of vitamin K

Cheese is a unique natural source of vitamin K. In an epidemiological study it was shown that vitamin K insufficiency is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease in adults 55+.

Children and adults above 40 years are groups with prominent vitamin K deficiency. These groups have been shown to profit from extra vitamin K intake. There are various forms of vitamin K. Vitamin K1 or phylloquinone is a single compound with a side chain of four isoprenoid residues, three of which are saturated. Vitamin K2, also called menaquinones, have side chains of varying length between four and thirteen isoprene residues (MK-4 to MK-13), most of which are unsaturated. The differences in length and saturation degree of the side chain, affects bioavailability, metabolism and tissue distribution. Consequently, they differ in their activities, which can result in different health effects.

Dietary intake of vitamin K2 accounts for up to 25% of total vitamin K intake and is generally of microbial origin. Important dietary sources of vitamin K2 are cheese, curd and natto (a traditional Japanese food composed of fermented soya beans), while dietary vitamin K1 is mainly found in several green vegetables, notably spinach, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts.  Recently, we have performed an intervention trial with a vitamin K2 enriched yogurt drink that shows that vitamin K2 was better taken up as compared to a supplement. Moreover, two servings of this dairy drink with low vitamin K2 levels resulted in an improved vitamin K2 status in the test population.

The Nutritional Science group of FrieslandCampina performed in cooperation with the VU University Medical Centre an epidemiological study on vitamin K insufficiency. Vitamin K plays a pivotal role in the activation of Matrix Gla protein (MGP), a calcification inhibitor in vascular tissue. Vascular calcification has become an important predictor of cardiovascular disease.

The aim of our study was to examine the potential association of circulating uncarboxylated MGP (dp-ucMGP), reflecting vitamin K status, with the incidence of cardiovascular events and disease in older individuals.
The study was conducted in 577 community-dwelling older men and women of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA), aged >55 year, who were free of cardiovascular disease at baseline. In this epidemiological study, we found that vitamin K insufficiency, as assessed by high plasma dp-ucMGP concentrations, is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. This effect was independent of classical risk factors and was independent of the vitamin D status. These outcomes may help positioning vitamin K2 rich product, including cheese,  as an important food product for regularly use in our diet in order to meet the daily requirement of this essential vitamin.

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  1. Van Den Heuvel, E.G.H.M. et al. Maturitas 2014;77 (2); 137-141.
  2. Beulens JWJ et al, British Journal of Nutrition 2013; 110 (8): 1357-1368.