A little-known vitamin could potentially be a cheaper way to lower cholesterol and help prevent diabetes in a first of its kind study in the U.S., an Augusta University researcher said.
It could also prove to be an effective intervention for adolescents in danger of developing diabetes or heart disease later on.
Dr. Norman Pollock, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Georgia Prevention Institute at AU, has three clinical trials to look at the effectiveness of vitamin K supplements in adults and in normal weight children ages 8 to 17.
Forms of vitamin K are found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, “everything kids don’t want to eat,” Pollock said. Other forms are found in certain cheeses. It is often not included in multivitamins and is hard to find as a standalone supplement, he said. It’s most widely studied function is in blood clotting.
But Pollock’s interest in it was sparked by research in animals that found a certain bone-derived protein called osteocalcin could also increase glucose metabolism and insulin production and improve insulin sensitivity, pointing to a previously unknown potential link between diabetes and bone health.
“That was an astounding finding and it was great for the scientific field, particularly in the area of bone health,” said Pollock, who ordinarily studies bone.
The problem is there is no known drug that directly influences osteocalcin, he said. But Pollock, who also has a background in nutrition, knew that vitamin K does.
Vitamin K also influences another protein called matrix GLA that has been shown to inhibit calcification of arteries, which can lead to heart disease. That could potentially lead to “two realms” of treatment, in both diabetes and heart disease, Pollock said.
To test this theory, he ran a small pilot trial giving vitamin K supplements to a few subjects and found it lowered LDL or the bad cholesterol, triglycerides and total cholesterol comparably to lipid-lowering medications.
“I was amazed to see that effect,” Pollock said.
He is hoping to replicate those results in the larger studies. There have been similar trials in Europe looking at vitamin K and arterial stiffness and coronary calcification and another starting in Canada but “this would be the first study done in the USA using vitamin K to look at these outcome measures,” Pollock said.
Abir Abdulbaki signed a consent to start the study Wednesday because she is concerned about a family history of diabetes.
“It amazes me how it can cause so many other things,” she said.
Pollock is particularly interested in seeing if it will work on kids who are in a “prediabetes” state, he said.
“They are in that range where they are at risk of having type II diabetes or probably getting it within a 10- or 15-year period but not yet,” Pollock said. “Hopefully, using this as a way of prevention to some extent.”
It could have a similar impact on kids with elevated cholesterol who have not yet reached the stage where they could take drugs to control it, he said.
Exactly how vitamin K might have these effects is still unclear, Pollock said. But should it prove effective, it might join the ranks of other well-known supplements, he said.
“Vitamin K right now, it’s almost like vitamin D was about 15 years ago,” Pollock said. “You could never find vitamin D in the store 15 years ago. You see vitamin D at the checkout counter now. It’s everywhere. Vitamin K, we are at the preliminary stage of really understanding what it can do beyond just this association with coagulation right