In mostly healthy adults, vitamin K deficiency is somewhat rare. But while it’s not known to be one of the most common deficiencies, it can be very serious, causing issues like bone loss, excessive bleeding and more.
So why does vitamin K deficiency predispose an individual to a coagulation disorder? Not only is vitamin K absolutely essential for blood clotting, but it is also involved in bone metabolism, heart function and brain health as well.
Fortunately, there are several ways to protect against deficiency and ensure that you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient in your daily diet.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the causes, risk factors and symptoms of deficiency, along with some simple strategies to bump up your intake and help you meet your needs.
What Is A Vitamin K Deficiency?
Vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in heart and bone health. It is one of the main vitamins involved in bone mineralization and blood coagulation and also helps protect against breast cancer, maintain brain function and boost metabolism.
Vitamin K deficiency occurs when you either consume less vitamin K than you need, or are unable to absorb enough from your diet. The beneficial bacteria in your gut promotes absorption of vitamin K, so your levels can be greatly impacted by your overall gut and digestive health.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin K depends on your gender and age, but other factors, such as breastfeeding, pregnancy and illness can also alter your requirements.
The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following as adequate intakes of vitamin K:
- 0 – 6 months: 2.0 micrograms per day (mcg/day)
- 7 – 12 months: 2.5 mcg/day
- 1 – 3 years: 30 mcg/day
- 4 – 8 years: 55 mcg/day
- 9 – 13 years: 60 mcg/day
Adolescents and Adults:
- Males and females age 14 – 18: 75 mcg/day
- Males and females age 19 and older: 90 mcg/day
Causes and Risk Factors
According to the American Association of Clinical Chemistry, vitamin K deficiency occurs usually occurs when you don’t consume enough from your diet, are unable to absorb it properly, have decreased production in the gastrointestinal tract or have reduced storage due to liver disease.
Common risk factors and causes for developing vitamin K deficiency include:
- Poor Gut Health: Because vitamin K is produced by the healthy bacteria in the digestive tract, any disruption in gut health can result in a decreased ability of the body to absorb or produce enough vitamin K.
- Intestinal Problems: Issues like irritable bowel syndrome, short bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease can prevent your body from absorbing vitamin K.
- Poor Diet: A diet lacking nutrient-rich, whole foods can increase your risk of deficiency.
- Other Health Problems: Having gallbladder or biliary disease, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, gluten sensitivity or celiac disease can also increase your chances of developing a deficiency.
- Use of Certain Medications: Blood thinners, long-term antibiotic use and cholesterol-lowering medications can all increase the risk of deficiency.
Because vitamin K plays such a key role in so many aspects of health and disease prevention, a deficiency can cause a range of serious side effects and may impact the skin, heart, bones, vital organs and digestive tract.
Here are a few of the most common vitamin K deficiency symptoms:
- Excessive bleeding
- Easy bruising
- Heavy, painful menstrual periods
- Bleeding in the GI tract
- Blood in the urine/stool
- Bone density loss
Deficiency K and Newborns
Researchers have known for years that newborn babies are born with a vitamin K deficiency, especially in those who are born pre-term. This deficiency, if severe enough, can cause certain diseases in newborn babies, such as a hemorrhagic disease, also known as HDN. If left untreated, this could potentially cause an intracranial hemorrhage or brain damage, although this is rare.
Lower levels of vitamin K at birth are attributed to both lower levels of bacteria within the intestines as well as the poor ability of the placenta to transport the vitamin from the mother to the baby. Not only that, but the vitamin K content in breast milk is relatively low, which can also contribute to deficiency.
It is usually protocol to give newborns a vitamin K shot upon birth to prevent severe bleeding and HDN. You can also opt for an oral supplement instead, but it’s unclear whether or not oral administration is as effective.
Vitamin K status is generally assessed with a coagulation test called the prothrombin time test (PT). With this test, certain chemicals are added to drawn blood and the amount of time that it takes to clot is measured.
A typical clotting/bleeding time is around 10–14 seconds. This is translated into a number called the international normalized ratio (INR), which is used to assess and measure vitamin K status.
When your clotting time or INR is above the recommended range, it means that your blood is clotting more slowly than normal, which may indicate a vitamin K deficiency.
Vitamin K deficiency treatment typically involves medications such as phytonadione, which is a form of vitamin K. These medications can be injected into the skin or administered orally to help quickly boost levels of vitamin K in the body.
While making dietary changes can generally help protect against vitamin K deficiency in adults, long-term supplementation may also be required for those with certain conditions. For instance, those with underlying health conditions or malabsorption syndrome may need to talk to their doctor to see if supplementation is right for them.
Certain medications that cause fat malabsorption can also contribute to a deficiency, which is why many doctors often recommend taking a multivitamin or vitamin K supplement alongside these medications.
The number one way to prevent deficiency is by switching up your diet to help increase your intake of vitamin K naturally. Not only can consuming a variety of nutritious plant and animal foods provide plenty of vitamin K1 and K2, but it may also help enhance gut health and absorption.
It’s best to get a good amount of vitamin K2 daily, especially from raw, fermented dairy products like raw cheese, yogurt, kefir and amasi. Other sources of vitamin K2 include grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, egg yolks, and organ meats like liver.
In addition to eating a variety of vitamin K2 foods, filling your diet with plenty of plant-based foods high in vitamin K1 is just as important. Here are a few of the top vitamin K1 foods:
- Green leafy vegetable
- Natto (fermented soy)
- Spring onions
- Brussels sprouts
- Dairy (fermented)
- Dried basil
- Vitamin K is an important vitamin that is beneficial for bone building, blood clotting, controlling calcium absorption, protecting the heart and supporting brain health.
- Poor gut health, certain medications, diet and underlying health conditions can all impact your levels of this key vitamin. A few of the conditions on the vitamin K deficiency diseases list include liver problems, fat malabsorption, gallbladder disease and celiac disease.
- Some of the most common vitamin K deficiency symptoms include excessive bleeding, easy bruising, bone loss and heavy or painful menstrual periods.
- Changing up your diet and/or using supplementation can help ensure that you’re getting the vitamin K that you need to prevent a deficiency.
- Foods that provide vitamin K1 include mostly leafy green veggies like spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and Swiss chard. The best sources of vitamin K2 include raw fermented dairy products like yogurt, cheese or kefir, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, egg yolks and organ meats like liver.