Vitamin K May Help Prevent Varicose Veins

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Up to 30% of Americans have varicose veins and the prevalence is about two to three times higher in women than men. The exact mechanism leading to the development of these swollen veins is still being worked out but there are several risk factors. 1) People who have jobs requiring long periods of standing or sitting are at increased risk as are women who have multiple pregnancies. 2) Crossing one?s legs and wearing high-heeled shoes may also contribute to the development of varicose veins. 3) People who are older, obese and inactive also have a heightened risk of developing varicose veins. 4) Varicose veins are more common in some families than others and are also more common in people who have certain connective tissue abnormalities so genetic factors apparently also play a role.

Diets high in salt can cause fluid retention and can certainly aggravate problems with varicose veins. Recent research suggests that a lack of Vitamin K could play an important role in the development of varicose veins. Most people think of Vitamin K in terms of its role in proper blood clotting. However, there is also good evidence Vitamin K plays an important role in bone and vascular health as well. Vitamin K is needed to make the matrix protein called osteocalcin found in bone. It has been shown that Vitamin K is also needed to form another protein called Matrix Gla Protein (MGP) that is required for normally functioning veins and arteries. A lack of vitamin K and/or the anti-clotting drug coumadin, which works by blocking Vitamin K lead to calcification and stiffening of arteries. A recent study examined the veins of 36 healthy men and another 50 men with varicose veins. The results showed that the varicose veins had significantly less MGP than did the healthy veins. It appears that a lack of Vitamin K leads to a reduction in MGP and this reduces the stretchiness of veins. When these stiffer veins get stretched they are less able to return to normal size and gradually swell to the point where their valve system breaks down.

Bottom Line: Preventing the development of varicose veins appears to be yet one more reason to eat plenty of vegetables like broccoli, spinach and lettuce that are high in Vitamin K.

By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN. 1. J Vasc Res 2007:44:444-59

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