Vitamin K

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When you think of overall health, nutrition should be one of the first things that cross your mind. Just like a car will not run without fuel, neither will your body. Even cells need fuel to carry out processes.

The human body is like a well-oiled machine. Every single tiny component must work in order for the whole to work as it should. When a component is not working as it should, it is known as a health condition. Some are minor while others are very serious. Nutrients are the foundation of health. Most people are aware of how macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins) affect your body and the benefits they provide. However, most people do not realize that even though micronutrients are only needed in small or trace amounts, they are just as crucial as macronutrients.

Vitamins play an essential part in your diet. There are 13 vitamins which are essential to growth and health maintenance. Whether or not you realize it, these micronutrients prevent serious health complications, as well as boost your overall health. Often times, vitamins work in conjunction with other nutrients to carry out one or more of life's many processes.

There are two categories of vitamins. The first group is water soluble and includes vitamins B and C. Vitamins in this group must be consumed daily because the body does not store them for later use. The second group is fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E and K make up this group. The body does store reserves of these vitamins for later use. The amount of reserves depend on the particular vitamin. Vitamin K is an example of an essential fat-soluble vitamin.

Let's delve into the extraordinary relationship of vitamin K and your body!

What Is Vitamin K?

As mentioned above, vitamin K is considered fat-soluble. The name in itself refers to a group of vitamins which are all similar in both function and composition. There are two primary types of vitamin K. The first is vitamin K1 and the second is vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is normally what you find in supplements, while vitamin K2 has been looked into for treatment in individuals with osteoporosis.

Interestingly enough, vitamin K was accidentally discovered in the early 1900s. The study at hand called for restricted diets, which then resulted in excessive bleeding. This excessive bleeding was not an intended result or side effect.  It was soon realized that the excessive bleeding was a result of the animals being deficient in vitamin K because of the diets received.

Even though vitamin K is classified as a fat-soluble vitamin, the body does not store large amounts of vitamin K. In fact, the body's storage system for vitamin K is minimal. With very little reserves, this means vitamin K needs to be consumed daily.

Benefits of Vitamin K

Vitamin K plays an important roll in blood clotting, bone health and heart health.1

Blood coagulation is an important defense mechanism in the human body. Clotting of the blood helps to prevent life-threatening blood loss. When a blood vessel is injured, it is the job of the platelets and proteins in the plasma to work together to heal the wound. Vitamin K has a part in producing four of the thirteen proteins needed for clotting including prothrombin which plays a large roll in blood coagulation.2 Blood clotting is seen in the tiniest wounds such as a paper cut, to traumatic injuries and puncture wounds.

Osteoporosis is a serious, possibly life-altering medical condition which causes bones to become brittle. This condition is more common in women than men. The risk of osteoporosis increases with age. Individuals who suffer from osteoporosis are at a greater risk for broken and fractured bones.3 Studies have shown that vitamin K can help increase bone strength by playing a role in bone metabolism.

Researchers are still studying the effectiveness of vitamin K in heart health. Studies have shown that vitamin K can help reverse calcification of the arteries, which is a leading cause of heart disease.4  Evidence suggests that vitamin K2 can prevent certain cancers, especially liver cancer by preventing the growth of cancer cells.

How to Use Vitamin K

Although a very small amount of vitamin K is made by the bacteria in the intestines, it is not enough to provide the recommended daily amount. Individuals can consume the daily recommended amount of vitamin K in three different ways. The first way is through diet. There are plenty of foods across all food groups that contain vitamin K. For those who do not consume enough vitamin K through their diet, there are oral supplements available in order to meet the required amounts. Vitamin K injections are the third way to receive vitamin K. However, this method is typically reserved for those who are diagnosed with a vitamin K deficiency, newborns and in some cases liver cirrhosis patients.

Daily Recommended Allowance

As with any nutrient, it is important to receive adequate amounts of vitamin K daily. Although vitamin K deficiencies are less common than other nutrient deficiencies, individuals can still suffer devastating consequences if the body's needs are not met. According to the National Institutes of Health daily recommended vitamin K amounts are as follows:

  • 0-6 months consume 2.0 mcg
  • 7-12 months consume 2.5 mcg
  • 1-3 years consume 30 mcg
  • 4-8 years consume 55 mcg
  • 9-13 years consume 60 mcg
  • 14-18 years consume 75 mcg
  • Mature males consume 120 mcg
  • Mature females 90 mcg

Unlike with most nutrients, there are no extra requirements when it comes to the amount of vitamin K needed by pregnant and lactating women. The vitamin K requirement remains at 90 mcg. It is always best to check with your doctor if you are nursing or pregnant to make sure your nutritional intake is adequate based on your individual needs.

Symptoms of Vitamin K Deficiency

A vitamin K deficiency is caused by either an insufficient intake of vitamin K or a decreased ability to absorb the nutrient. Individuals with liver disease can also experience a decreased ability to store vitamin K in their body.

Common signs of a vitamin K deficiency include easy bruising, discharge from the nose or gums, excessive bleeding from wounds or cuts, blood in either the urine or stool, bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract and heavier than normal periods.

Typically a vitamin K deficiency is suspected when an individual presents with excessive, unexplained bleeding. A prothrombin time test is the most common method to investigate excessive bleeding. Vitamin K injections are prescribed and given to those who have a deficiency.

Oral supplementation can be used to control vitamin K levels in the body. It takes an average of three days before the effects of vitamin K treatment can be seen and felt by the individual.

If you are worried about or suspect a vitamin K deficiency, contact your healthcare provider. Your doctor will conduct a thorough examination, including an evaluation of your history, perform the needed tests and prescribe the necessary treatment.

Who Is at Risk of a Vitamin K Deficiency?

As discussed earlier, compared to other micronutrients, a vitamin K deficiency is less common. However, there are three groups of individuals who are inherently at a greater risk for a deficiency. The three groups are newborns, individuals with gastrointestinal disorders and blood clotting disorders.

Newborns

Babies receive nutrients via the placenta in-utero. This is why nutrition is so important for a pregnant woman. Her baby essentially eats everything she eats. Vitamin K is a nutrient which is difficult to transfer from the mother through the placenta and to the baby. When babies are born they have a limited store of vitamin K. For this reason, newborns are at a greater risk for developing a vitamin K deficiency. It is routine for newborns to receive an injection of vitamin K shortly after birth to prevent health complications caused by a lack of vitamin K.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Individuals who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders or certain autoimmune diseases often times have a decreased ability to absorb and use vitamin K. This, in turn, can put these individuals at an increased risk to develop a vitamin K deficiency. If you suffer from one of these disorders, pay attention to your vitamin K intake levels and adjust accordingly.

Blood Clotting Disorders

Those who have blood clotting disorders are typically on medications that keep their blood from clotting too easily. These are known as blood thinners. It is extremely important that these individuals ensure they are receiving adequate amounts of vitamin K in their diet. Failure to do so can cause a double whammy from both the blood thinner reducing coagulation and the lack of vitamin K reducing blood clotting abilities.

Common Foods That Contain Vitamin K

Your diet is the most common method of receiving the amount of vitamin K that the body needs. No matter your taste buds or diet preferences, there are plenty of foods available that provide the amount of vitamin K required by the body. Vegetarians and vegans can choose from vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes, while those who are omnivorous also have dairy and meat options.

Vegetables

Dark, leafy green vegetables are the food sources richest in vitamin K1. It is common knowledge that nutrients can be lost in foods during cooking. Fortunately, vitamin K is not one of those nutrients. Cooking or even boiling vegetables will not decrease the vitamin K content.

Fruits

For those who aren't as keen on vegetables. Here is a list of fruits containing the essential vitamin K:

  • Prunes
  • Kiwi
  • Figs
  • Blackberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes

Protein Sources

While vegetables tend to be the best sources of vitamin K. Certain protein sources can also provide smaller amounts of vitamin K in the diet:

  • Egg yolk
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Liver
  • Beef
  • Duck

Dairy Products

Soft cheeses and full-fat dairy products tend to contain the highest amounts of vitamin K when it comes to dairy products.

  • Hard and soft cheeses
  • Whole milk
  • Butter
  • Cream

Vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble nutrient, that plays an essential role in blood coagulation, bone health and cardiovascular health. Although vitamin K can be found in many common foods, oral supplements are also available to ensure adequate intake and prevent a deficiency. Your healthcare professional can determine whether or not you have a deficiency.

A healthy lifestyle starts with becoming the healthiest version of yourself. Not only will you feel good on the inside but you will exude confidence in your everyday life. In order to feel your best and live the healthy life, you've always dreamed of, all nutrients great and small matter. It's worth the time to pay attention to even the smallest of nutrients. Even the smallest changes can make a huge difference in how you look and feel. The health benefits are icing on the cake and go a long way in preventing certain diseases which can be brought up about by poor eating habits. There's no better time than the present to embrace your future. Nutrition is a great place to start your journey to a healthier you!

Citations and Sources

1.
Caluwé R, Verbeke F, De Vriese AS. Evaluation of vitamin K status and rationale for vitamin K supplementation in dialysis patients. Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation. December 2018. doi:10.1093/ndt/gfy373
2.
Dahms S, Demir F, Huesgen P, Thorn K, Brandstetter H. Sirtilins - the new old members of the vitamin K-dependent coagulation factor family. J Thromb Haemost. January 2019. [PubMed]
3.
Lorentzon M. Treating osteoporosis to prevent fractures: current concepts and future developments. J Intern Med. January 2019. [PubMed]
4.
van B, Beulens J. The Role of Vitamin K Status in Cardiovascular Health: Evidence from Observational and Clinical Studies. Curr Nutr Rep. 2017;6(3):197-205. [PMC]
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