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Eat These Decadent Animal Foods to Keep Your Arteries Supple & Healthy

assortment of healthy food, animal foods that protect your arteriess,

Written By: Kelley Herring

In today’s article, we cover a well-known contributor to heart disease – and the surprising underlying cause you might not know about. You’ll also discover the delicious animal foods that offer a powerful measure of protection!

You’ve probably heard the term “hardening of the arteries.” This refers to a loss of elasticity in the blood vessels. You see, healthy arteries are supple and flexible (like a new garden hose). They expand and contract smoothly with each heartbeat.

But when the arteries become rigid and inflexible (like an old garden hose) blood flow is restricted, blood pressure rises and the heart is forced to pump harder to move blood through the body.

This “hardening” is highly correlated with cognitive decline, erectile dysfunction, heart attack, stroke and other serious complications.[i][ii][iii][iv][v][vi]

And while inflammation, glycation, elevated blood sugar and blood pressure can all contribute to arterial stiffness, the primary underlying cause is the biological process of calcification.[vii][viii][ix]

Hardening of the Arteries: A Complex Problem Caused by a Simple Nutrient Deficiency?

Calcification is simply the buildup of calcium deposits in the arteries and heart valves. These mineral deposits cause the vessels to become stiff and inflexible.

 But what causes calcium to get deposited in the arteries in the first place?

In 1978 a calcium-binding protein called osteocalcin was discovered. This protein is an important part of bone growth and density. Your body uses vitamin D to make osteocalcin.  And it uses vitamin K2 to activate the osteocalcin, so that it binds to calcium in your bones.

But vitamin K does not just activate your ability to store calcium in your bones (where it belongs). It also blocks calcium from infiltrating and binding to soft tissues (where it doesn’t belong!).[x][xi][xii][xiii][xiv][xv] This is a very important function of this critical nutrient!

Numerous studies show that vitamin K2 can help us maintain strong bones AND soft pliable tissues. And, in its absence, the opposite occurs. Bones become soft and brittle… while arteries become hard and inflexible.

Obviously, this is an important nutrient… so let’s take a look at the research and how you can get more of it in your diet!

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Get More Vitamin K2 to Keep Your Arteries Healthy & Flexible

The Rotterdam Heart Study followed nearly 5,000 subjects for seven years. These individuals had no prior history of heart attack. The study showed that those with higher levels of vitamin K2 had 57% reduced incidence of death from heart disease.[xvi]

The “gold standard” for measuring arterial stiffness is called the “carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity” test. And a recent clinical trial used this test to evaluate the impact of vitamin K2 supplementation.

In this trial, 244 post-menopausal women supplemented with vitamin K2 or a placebo. After three years, those in the K2 group had significantly decreased risk of cardiovascular death, while the placebo group had an increased risk, compared to their status at the beginning of the trial.[xvii]

Numerous observational studies also show a lower incidence of heart disease and arterial calcification in people with a high intake of vitamin K2.[xviii][xix][xx]

Get Enough Vitamin K2 in Your Diet for Flexible Arteries & Strong Bones

Before we get into the foods you should be eating to keep your arteries supple and your bones strong, it’s important to note the paramount distinction between the types of vitamin K.

  • Vitamin K1, known as phylloquinone, is found in many foods (like leafy greens).

  • Vitamin K2, or menaquinone, is the “activator” discussed in this article. It is found primarily in animal foods. It is also produced by certain bacteria and is found in some fermented foods.

Vitamin K1 differs greatly from vitamin K2 in its biochemical activities. In fact, studies show that vitamin K2 reduces blood vessel calcification whereas vitamin K1 does not.[xxi] Studies also show that vitamin K2 improves bone and heart health, while vitamin K1 does not.[xxii]

The subtypes of Vitamin K2 (MK-7, MK-4) also differ in their function. Research shows that MK-7 makes the most significant contribution to bone health.[xxiii][xxiv] MK-4, however, gets taken up by a wide variety of tissues in the body, including the arterial wall, where it plays a role in preventing arterial calcification.[xxv][xxvi] 

In short, MK-7 appears to be more important for bone health, while MK-4 seems to be more beneficial for vascular health.

The highest known sources of vitamin K2 come from goose and chicken livers. You’ll also find plenty of vitamin K2 in foods like grass-fed butter and cheese, pasture-raised egg yolks, salami and other sausages from pastured animals, as well as wild fish roe.

Grass-Fed Butter, dairy fats

Organ meats, like kidneys, liver, pancreas, reproductive organs (“oysters”), brains, marrow and cartilage (and foods made from these like head cheese, liverwurst and braunschweiger) are also likely to be rich sources of K2. Unfortunately, we don’t have exact values for the amounts of vitamin K2 in these superfoods at this time.

The only good vegetarian source of vitamin K2 known is the fermented food, natto.

Let’s take a look at the food sources of vitamin K2:[xxvii]


Vitamin K2 per 100 g

Type of Menaquinone


1,000 mcg (833 % DV)


Jarlsberg cheese

73 mcg (61% DV)

MK-4 – MK-9

Goose liver

369 mcg (308% DV)


Chicken liver

14 mcg (12% DV)


 Gouda cheese

73 mcg (61% DV)

MK-4 – MK-9

Egg (large)

8 mcg (6% DV)


Goose leg

26 mcg (22% DV)



42 mcg (35% DV)


Sour cream

6 mcg (5% DV)


Cream cheese

9 mcg (7% DV)



28 mcg (23% DV)



21 mcg (17% DV)


Pork Sausage

23 mcg (19% DV)


Chicken wings

25 mcg (21% DV)


Chicken thigh

24 mcg (20% DV)


Heavy cream

8 mcg (7% DV)



It’s also important to note that different cheeses have different levels of vitamin K2, based on how they are produced. For example, soft cheeses and bleu cheeses are especially high in vitamin K2, likely due to the lactic acid bacteria used to make these cheeses.[xxviii]



Here are a few quick tips to maximize your vitamin K2:

  1. Consume Vitamin K2 Rich Foods Daily: Unlike the other fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D and E), vitamin K is not stored in the body. So, it must be consumed consistently. Despite vitamin K2 production by healthy intestinal bacteria, humans can develop a deficiency in as few as 7 days on a vitamin K-deficient diet.[xxix]
  2. Consume Vitamin K2 Foods with the Right Fats: Vitamin K is lipid soluble and should be consumed alongside foods that contain healthy fats. However, the process of hydrogenation (which makes the heart-stopping trans fats found in everyday packaged and fast foods) modifies the structure of the vitamin K in these oils into a form incapable of activating osteocalcin, MGP and other vitamin-K dependent proteins.[xxx] So if you eat processed or fast foods that contain hydrogenated oils, you are at an increased risk of functional vitamin K deficiency. Avoid hydrogenated fats and seed oils (like canola, and vegetable oils). Instead, choose stable, native fats like tallow, lard, coconut oil, butter, duck fat and ghee.
  3. Avoid Statins & Be Cautious with Prescriptions: Statins – the class of pharmaceutically-designed drugs to reduce heart disease risk can actually increase your risk of arterial calcification by inhibiting vitamin K2. Of course, this increases the risk for heart disease and heart failure.[xxxi][xxxii] The anticoagulant activity of warfarin and other coumarins is also significantly reduced by vitamin K2.[xxxiii]
  4. Take D3 with K2: Optimizing your vitamin D levels is vital for overall health. Be sure to choose a D3 supplement with K2 added to prevent calcium deposition in the soft tissues (metastatic calcification).[xxxiv] And remember that responsible sunlight exposure is the optimal way to get vitamin D.

Optimizing vitamin K2 in your diet easy. Enjoy grass-fed dairy products like butter, cheese and cream and opt for an animal-based diet rich in the full spectrum of nutrients your body needs. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Read more of Kelley Herring’s health and wellness articles on the Discover Blog.

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Kelley Herring

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[iv] Hermann DM, Gronewold J, Lehmann N, et al. Coronary artery calcification is an independent stroke predictor in the general population. Stroke. 2013;44(4):1008-13.

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[xiii] Shea MK, Holden RM. Vitamin K status and vascular calcification: evidence from observational and clinical studies. Adv Nutr. 2012;3(2):158-65.

[xiv] Hauschka PV. Osteocalcin: the vitamin K-dependent Ca2+-binding protein of bone matrix. Haemostasis. 1986;16(3-4):258-72.

[xv] Cario-Toumaniantz C, Boularan C, Schurgers LJ, Heymann MF, Le Cunff M, Léger J, Loirand G, Pacaud P. Identification of differentially expressed genes in human varicose veins: involvement of matrix gla protein in extracellular matrix remodeling. J Vasc Res. 2007;44(6):444-59. doi: 10.1159/000106189. Epub 2007 Jul 20. PMID: 17643059.

[xvi] Geleijnse J, Vermeer C, Grobbee D.E, et al. Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: the Rotterdam Study. Journal of Nutrition. 2004;134(11):3100-3105.

[xvii] Knapen MH, Braam LA, Drummen NE, Bekers O, Hoeks AP, Vermeer C. Menaquinone-7 supplementation improves arterial stiffness in healthy postmenopausal women. A double-blind randomised clinical trial. Thromb Haemost. 2015 May;113(5):1135-44. doi: 10.1160/TH14-08-0675. Epub 2015 Feb 19. PMID: 25694037.

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[xix] Gast GC, de Roos NM, Sluijs I, et al. A high menaquinone intake reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2009;19(7):504-10.

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[xxi] Spronk HM, Soute BA, Schurgers LJ, Thijssen HH, De Mey JG, Vermeer C. Tissue-specific utilization of menaquinone-4 results in the prevention of arterial calcification in warfarin-treated rats. J Vasc Res. 2003 Nov-Dec;40(6):531-7. doi: 10.1159/000075344. Epub 2003 Dec 3. PMID: 14654717.

[xxii] Schwalfenberg GK. Vitamins K1 and K2: The Emerging Group of Vitamins Required for Human Health. J Nutr Metab. 2017;2017:6254836. doi:10.1155/2017/6254836

[xxiii] Akbari S, Rasouli-Ghahroudi AA. Vitamin K and Bone Metabolism: A Review of the Latest Evidence in Preclinical Studies. Biomed Res Int. 2018;2018:4629383. Published 2018 Jun 27. doi:10.1155/2018/4629383

[xxiv] Maresz K. Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2015;14(1):34-39.

[xxv] Gröber U, Reichrath J, Holick MF, Kisters K. Vitamin K: an old vitamin in a new perspective. Dermatoendocrinol. 2015;6(1):e968490. Published 2015 Jan 21. doi:10.4161/19381972.2014.968490

[xxvi] Spronk HM, Soute BA, Schurgers LJ, Thijssen HH, De Mey JG, Vermeer C. Tissue-specific utilization of menaquinone-4 results in the prevention of arterial calcification in warfarin-treated rats. J Vasc Res. 2003 Nov-Dec;40(6):531-7. doi: 10.1159/000075344. Epub 2003 Dec 3. PMID: 14654717.

[xxvii] Elder SJ, Haytowitz DB, Howe J, Peterson JW, Booth SL. Vitamin k contents of meat, dairy, and fast food in the u.s. Diet. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Jan 25;54(2):463-7. doi: 10.1021/jf052400h. PMID: 16417305.

[xxviii] Manoury E, Jourdon K, Boyaval P, Fourcassié P. Quantitative measurement of vitamin K2 (menaquinones) in various fermented dairy products using a reliable high-performance liquid chromatography method. J Dairy Sci. 2013 Mar;96(3):1335-46. doi: 10.3168/jds.2012-5494. Epub 2013 Jan 17. PMID: 23332840.

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[xxx] Booth SL, Lichtenstein AH, O’Brien-Morse M, McKeown NM, Wood RJ, Saltzman E, Gundberg CM. Effects of a hydrogenated form of vitamin K on bone formation and resorption. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Dec;74(6):783-90. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/74.6.783. PMID: 11722960.

[xxxi] Harshman, S., Shea, K., Fu, X., Grusak, M.A., Smith, D.E., Lamon-Fava, S., Kuliopulos, A., Greenberg, A., Booth, S.L. 2019. Atorvastatin decreases renal menaquinone-4 formation in C57BL/6 male mice. Journal of Nutrition. 149(3):416-421.

[xxxii] Okuyama H, Langsjoen PH, Hamazaki T, Ogushi Y, Hama R, Kobayashi T, Uchino H. Statins stimulate atherosclerosis and heart failure: pharmacological mechanisms. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2015 Mar;8(2):189-99. doi: 10.1586/17512433.2015.1011125. Epub 2015 Feb 6. Erratum in: Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2015;8(4):503-5. PMID: 25655639.

[xxxiii] Theuwissen E, Teunissen KJ, Spronk HMH, Hamulyák K, Ten Cate H, Shearer MJ, et al. Effect of lowdose supplements of menaquinone-7 (vitamin K2) on the stability of oral anticoagulant treatment: dose–response relationship in healthy volunteers. J Thromb Haemost. 2013;11(6):1085-92.

[xxxiv] Mandatori D, Pelusi L, Schiavone V, Pipino C, Di Pietro N, Pandolfi A. The Dual Role of Vitamin K2 in “Bone-Vascular Crosstalk”: Opposite Effects on Bone Loss and Vascular Calcification. Nutrients. 2021;13(4):1222. Published 2021 Apr 7. doi:10.3390/nu13041222