Vitamin K, an essential fat-soluble vitamin, plays an important role in bone and heart health.
The term vitamin K refers to a family of compounds with a common chemical structure of 2-methyl-1, 4-naphthoquinone. These compounds include phylloquinone (vitamin K1) and a series of menaquinones (vitamin K2)
Being a fat-soluble vitamin, your body stores it in fat tissue and the liver.
Signs of Vitamin K Deficiency
A deficiency in vitamin K can lead to defective blood clotting, increased bleeding and osteoporosis. Some of the signs and symptoms include easy bruising, oozing from the nose or gums, heavy menstrual periods, gastrointestinal bleeding, blood in the urine and excessive bleeding from wounds, punctures, injections or surgical incisions.
People with chronic malnutrition, alcohol dependency or health conditions that inhibit absorption of dietary vitamins are at a higher risk of suffering from vitamin K deficiency.
How Much Vitamin K You Need
The U.S. National Institutes of Health recommends the following as adequate daily intake of vitamin K in micrograms (mcg), based on your age and gender. Certain illnesses may alter the amount of this vitamin that you need each day. Consult your doctor with any questions.
Best Sources of Vitamin K
To get vitamin K, you can always take supplements after consulting your doctor. However, there are many natural sources, too.
Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are two of the best sources of vitamin K. Some examples include kale, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, parsley, broccoli, asparagus and lettuce.
Other food sources include natto (fermented soy), spring onions, prunes, cucumbers, beef liver, green tea, sea vegetables, fish, eggs, dried basil, wheat bran, and fermented dairy products like yogurt and cheese.
Here are the top health benefits of Vitamin K.
1. Regulates Blood Clotting
One of the primary functions of vitamin K is to regulate blood clotting, which requires a particular set of molecules that continuously circulate through the bloodstream.
It plays a key role in amalgamation of prothrombium, an automatic process that happens during injury due to tears in the blood vessels.
Also, vitamin K helps transport calcium throughout the body, which is needed for regulating blood clotting.
At the same time, this vitamin helps improve blood disorders called myelodysplastic syndrome. It is also used to reverse the effects of blood-thinning medications when too much is given. Furthermore, it prevents clotting problems in newborns who have low vitamin K levels.
2. Improves Bone Health
This important vitamin plays a major role in improving bone health and reducing the risk of bone fractures. Vitamin K is especially important for postmenopausal women who are at risk for osteoporosis.
Your body needs vitamin K to use calcium to build bones. An adequate amount of vitamin K, especially K2, is needed to activate osteocalcin, a protein circulating in the blood that binds calcium ions to the matrix of bone, making bones stronger.
A 2001 study published in Nutrition reports that besides the gamma-carboxylation of osteocalcin (a protein involved in bone mineralization), vitamin K also positively affects calcium balance, a key mineral in bone metabolism.
In fact, people with adequate amounts of vitamin K have greater bone density, while low levels of vitamin K are linked to osteoporosis.
3. Supports Heart Health
Vitamin K is also good for your heart health.
First of all, it helps lower blood pressure by preventing buildup of minerals in the arteries (mineralization). This allows the heart to freely push blood throughout the body.
A 2009 study published in Atherosclerosis reports that high dietary menaquinone (vitamin K2) intake is associated with reduced coronary calcification. Adequate menaquinone intakes could therefore be important to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Secondly, this vitamin aids in reducing inflammation and protecting cells that line the blood vessels, including both veins and arteries. This in turn decreases the chances of cardiac arrest or heart attacks.
4. Fights Cancer
Vitamin K is effective in the fight against colon, stomach, liver, oral, prostate and nasal cancers, due to its anticancer effects.
A 2003 study published in the Alternative Medicine Review studied 30 patients with a type of liver cancer. The patients took oral vitamin K1, and it was found that the disease stabilized in six patients, seven patients had a partial response and seven others had improved liver function.
A later 2013 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that vitamin K2, a naturally occurring menaquinone, exerts therapeutic effects on both hormone-dependent and hormone-independent prostate cancer cells.
If you have cancer or a family history of it, you must ensure that you get adequate vitamin K and may even want to consider adding a vitamin K supplement to your diet.