Vitamin K is not a single vitamin, but a group of fat-soluble vitamins that play a role in blood clotting, regulating calcium levels in the blood, and bone metabolism. And that is not all of the benefits of vitamin K.
The vitamin does much more for our body.
Our body needs vitamin K so it can produce prothrombin, a protein that plays a crucial role in blood clotting and bone metabolism.
It is worth noting that people using blood-thinning medications should avoid consuming extra vitamin K or taking supplements.
Deficiency in vitamin K is rare, but in some cases, deficiency can increase clotting time which results in excessive bleeding and hemorrhage https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24300958.
The main type of vitamin K is vitamin K1, also known as phylloquinone.
This type comes from plants. But speaking of vitamin K types, we will break them down later.
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How much vitamin K you need?
When you compare vitamin K deficiency with other nutrient deficiencies, vitamin K is considered rare.
These three are widely considered a problem, even in developed countries like the United States of America.
Deficiency in vitamin K, on the other hand, is considered rare in healthy adults. On the flip side, when you have low amounts of the vitamin, your condition can get very serious and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
With that in mind, the recommended daily intake of the vitamin varies depending on your age https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/.
Here is a quick breakdown how much of it you need:
- Babies up to 6 months old need 2mcg of vitamin K per day
- Babies between 7 and 12 months old need 2.5mcg of vitamin K per day
- Children aged between 1 to 3 old need 30mcg of vitamin K per day
- Toddlers between 4 and 8 years old need 55mcg of vitamin K per day
- Children between 9 and 13 years old need 60mcg of vitamin K per day
- Teenagers between 14 and 20 years old need 75mcg of vitamin K per day
- Adults over 20 years need 120mcg of vitamin K per day
Types of vitamin K
As mentioned previously, vitamin K is not a single vitamin. In fact, it represents a group of fat-soluble vitamins, and there are more than one type of vitamin K.
The two main types of vitamin K are K1 and K2. The former is called phytonadione (phylloquinone), while the latter is called menaquinone.
Vitamin K1 is a plant vitamin, and found in vegetables, while vitamin K2 is found in fermented dairy products and produced by bacteria in our guts.
K1 can easily be sourced from vegetables like leafy greens, but it is vitamin K2 the one that is more beneficial for protecting our heart.
K2 can help with prevention and reversing arterial calcifications that result in heart-related problems.
The best way to ensure you are reaping all benefits and getting enough of the daily requirement is to follow a diet rich in both types of vitamin K. This means a variety of whole foods, green plant foods, raw and fermented dairy products, fish, and eggs.
Benefits of Vitamin K
1. Prevent osteoporosis
As mentioned in the beginning, vitamin K plays a crucial role in health of our bones. The vitamin can prevent loss of mineral density.
Consumption of leafy green vegetables is crucial for preventing signs and symptoms of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis usually occurs after the age of 50 due to lowered bone mineral density. It is even more visible in post-menopausal women.
Our bones attain maximum strength and density at the age of 20-30 years old. After the peak, our bone-building starts to wane and the bone mineral density reduces.
2. Reduce blood clotting
Another major benefit of vitamin K is preventing and reducing blood clotting. The vitamin plays a crucial role in regulation of blood clotting.
Vitamin K is responsible for transporting calcium through the body, and helps increase blood circulation in tissues and peripheral bones.
Vitamin K also plays a role in the amalgamation of prothrombin that happens at the time of the injury resulted by tears in blood vessels.
3. Improves heart health
Vitamin does much more for our heart and cardiovascular health than just reduce blood clotting. The vitamin is also a strong inhibitor of arterial calcification.
This means the vitamin prevents calcium deposition on the heart walls. By doing that, vitamin K essentially reduces the risk of a heart attack and stroke.
4. Improve cognitive health
Our brain needs a lot of vitamin K. In fact, the vitamin plays a role in brain development and improving cognitive function.
Vitamin K is also responsible for preventing degenerative conditions.
Think Alzheimer’s among older patients. The vitamin does this by improving episodic memory.
5. Reduces excessive menstrual flow
As you can notice by now, vitamin K is closely related with blood circulation in flow.
Good amounts of vitamin K ensure a woman experiences a normal menstrual bleeding.
Deficiency in the vitamin will result in excessive menstrual flow.
6. Decrease menstrual pain
Another benefit of consuming vitamin K related to menstrual period is decreasing pain.
By ensuring optimal functioning of the hormones, the vitamin prevents and reduces menstrual pain and cramps. It is a dream scenario for women, a period without pain.
7. Prevents cancer
Vitamin K is just one of the pieces of the puzzle preventing cancer and cancerous cells https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18922041/0.
Studies have shown that vitamin K can prevent tumor growth in cancer patients https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17923470.
The vitamin is effective in healing effects of colon, nasal, oral, and prostate cancer.
8. Prevent internal bleeding
Vitamin K can help with prevention of all sorts of internal bleeding, not just menstrual bleeding https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4862383/ .
The vitamin reduces the threat of bleeding in the liver, but also helps with poor nutrient absorption and jaundice.
Vitamin K also helps and prevents conditions like Crohn’s disease and colitis, both of which happen due to internal organ bleeding.
9. Relieve nausea during pregnancy
Pregnant women definitely need vitamin K, as the vitamin can help with the biggest challenge during the 9 months period.
If you are suffering from vomiting and nausea, that might probably due to deficiency in vitamin K.
Consuming enough of it will provide relief in less than 72 hours, and also prevent these mild forms of nausea in the future.
10. Regulate blood sugar
The vitamin plays an important role in regulating levels of blood sugar. This essentially means reducing the risk of diabetes.
Some studies have shown that supplementation of vitamin K is more effective in preventing diabetes among older men than women.
11. Protect our immune system
Vitamin K is very much needed by our body. Not only it helps with blood clotting and bone health, the vitamin also improves our overall immune system.
Vitamin K does this by protecting the digestive system of inflammation and other problems.
12. Prevent hemorrhaging in babies
New-born babies instantly get an injection of vitamin K to prevent hemorrhaging.
For asthmatic children, oral intake of the vitamin through drops is recommended.
13. Prevent biliary obstruction
If you are consuming a lot of antibiotics orally, you run the risk of biliary obstruction and celiac disease.
Vitamin K can help regulate and prevent these conditions from happening.
Vitamin K Deficiency symptoms and risk factors
As mentioned previously, vitamin K deficiency is rather rare among adults.
As long as you are getting your dose of leafy greens and dairy products on a regular basis, you are good. But while there are benefits, there are also symptoms and problems caused by deficiency in the vitamin.
The symptoms affect the skin, bones, heart, gut, and other vital organs.
Here are some signs and symptoms:
- Bruising easily is one of the most common warning signs of vitamin K deficiency. This happens due to abnormalities of coagulation factors, all of which are regulated with blood clotting
- Heavy and painful menstrual periods are common in women that are deficient in vitamin K. These periods are called menorrhagia, and can affect between 10 and 20 percent of reproductive age women https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5592002/
- Bone density loss
- Bleeding and hemorrhaging within the gastrointestinal tract, causing blood in urine and/or stool
Vitamin K deficiency is one of the rare nutrient deficiencies.
But there are always risk factors that can contribute to it, despite being a rare condition among healthy adults.
- Poor gut health is a common risk factor. Because vitamin K is produced by healthy bacteria in the gut, any disruption in the intestines like leaky gut syndrome will result in decreased ability to absorb or produce the vitamin
- Intestinal problems like chronic irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease can both prevent your body from absorbing enough vitamin K
- Poor diet that is low in vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 is also a factor. If you are not consuming vitamin K rich foods, there is no way your body produces enough of it
- Gallbladder or biliary disease, liver disease, gluten sensitivity, or celiac disease can increase the risk of vitamin K deficiency
- Consuming antibiotics for a prolonged period of time
- Consuming cholesterol-lowering medications
- Taking blood thinners
Vitamin K deficiency in newborns and infants
Babies are born with a lower level of vitamin K in their body than adults have.
This deficiency is severe and can cause diseases in newborn babies, most notably hemorrhagic disease.
The severe condition is more common among babies that are born pre-term https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11220402.
Studies show that babies are usually born with lower levels of bacteria in gut intestines, which affects the absorption and production of vitamin K. Because of this, babies cannot convert vitamin K from foods or break milk.
Vitamin K also exists in lower concentration in breast milk, probably due to medications often given to mothers that inhibit vitamin K consumption.
Researchers have found out that babies who are breastfeed are more inclined to have vitamin K deficiency https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11220402.
Due to all of these factors, it is now a protocol to give newborns a vitamin K injection upon birth. This prevents bleeding and NDN development.
Best sources of vitamin K
The best way to prevent deficiency in vitamin K and reap the benefits is to up your consumption of vitamin K rich foods. You need to get enough of both types of vitamin K.
Consume plant and animals foods that provide vitamin K1 and K2, and you will be good. In the same time, make sure to improve absorption and gut health.
As mentioned previously, the daily value for adults is 120mcg. Getting 90mcg of vitamin K per day is enough.
Some nutritionists recommend you get at least 40mg of K2 through fermented and raw dairy products, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, egg yolks, and organ meats like liver.
With that in mind, here are some foods rich in vitamin K.
- Dandelion greens – 428mcg in 1 raw cup
- Mustard greens – 278mcg in 1 raw cup
- Swiss chard – 298mcg in 1 raw cup
- Brussel sprouts – 156mcg in 1 raw cup
- Scallions, also known as spring onions – 207mcg in 1 cup
- Turnip greens – 138mcg in 1 cup
- Spinach – 145mcg in 1 cup
- Kale – 112mcg in 1 raw cup
- Beef liver – 92mcg in one serving
- Broccoli – 92mcg in 1 cup
- Pork chops – 69mcg in one serving
- Chicken breasts – 60mcg in one serving
- Prunes – 60mcg in 10 prunes
- Asparagus – 55cg in 1 cup uncooked
- Sea vegetables – 52mcg in 1 cup
- Cabbage – 31mcg in 1 cup raw
- Hard cheeses – 25mcg per ounce
- Pork liver – 25mcg in one serving
- Soft cheeses – 17mcg per ounce
- Cucumber – 17mcg in 1 cup
- Cauliflower – 16mcg in 1 cup raw
What about vitamin K Supplements?
If you want to take vitamin K supplements, physicians recommend consuming from a form that is fermented and provides between 40 and 70mcg of vitamin K per day https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/93/4/1217/2826351.
While supplementing with vitamin K can be helpful in some cases, it is always recommended that you get enough of the vitamin through your diet.
Taking high doses of vitamin K through supplements is not recommended. Mainly because it doesn’t offer the same benefits as vitamin K from foods.
Additionally, high doses of the vitamin will interfere with absorption of other nutrients.
AS mentioned previously, vitamin K is closely linked with calcium consumption and absorption.
But also with vitamin D, magnesium, and other nutrients that are vital for bone health.
- Pregnant and nursing women should avoid using vitamin K supplements that have a higher dose than the recommended daily allowance.
- Patients who had experienced stroke, cardiac arrest, or are prone to blood clotting should not take vitamin K supplements before consulting with their physician
- Limit vitamin K rich foods if you are taking blood thinning drugs
- If you are consuming antibiotics for more than 10 days, you have to increase your consumption of vitamin K because antibiotics kill bacteria in the intestines
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