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Vitamin K Deficiency, Foods & Health Benefits

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Vitamin K deficiency - Dr. Axe

Compared to other nutrient deficiencies— such as low magnesium, vitamin D or vitamin B12— is vitamin K deficiency common and something you should worry about?

In mostly healthy adults, vitamin K deficiency is considered to be somewhat rare. While it’s not known to be one of the most common deficiencies, when someone is deficient in vitamin K it can be very serious. For example, some research has shown that vitamin K deficiency in adults may increase their risk for developing heart disease or having a stroke.

What are some of the symptoms of low vitamin K status? Some people might not have many noticeable symptoms at all. When they do occur, symptoms of vitamin K deficiency can include increased bleeding, bruising easily, very heavy periods, and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease like bloody stool, indigestion and diarrhea.

Who is at risk for a vitamin K deficiency? You’re more likely to experience vitamin K deficiency if you are ill or have a chronic health problem that affects nutrient absorption. (1) Other causes can include: eating a poor diet, having liver disease, or taking antibiotics long-term, cholesterol-lowering medications, or blood thinners (such as Warfarin).

Below we’ll talk about the best ways to prevent or overcome vitamin K deficiency— such as improving the concentration of vitamin K in your diet by eating more vitamin K-rich foods , treating underlying health problems and adjusting your medication use if needed.


What Is Vitamin K?

Vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in bone and heart health. It is one of the main vitamins involved in bone mineralization and blood clotting, plus it also helps to maintain brain function, a healthy metabolism and protect against cancer. (2)

  • According to researchers from the Mid America Heart Institute at Saint Luke’s Hospital, research has shown that vitamin K is an “anticalcification, anticancer, bone-forming and insulin-sensitising molecule.”(3) It’s many protective effects make it one of the best vitamins for adult men and women.
  • Vitamin K is most well-known for being responsible for bone building and blood clotting. Blood would not clot without vitamin K because the vitamin activates the protein that is responsible for forming clots within the blood.
  • We hear a lot about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants like vitamin C or vitamin E for preventing heart disease — but recent studies suggest that vitamin K is also one of the most crucial vitamins for preventing cardiovascular diseases. Studies have shown that individuals who increase their intake of dietary vitamin K have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke mortality. This is one reason why preventing vitamin K deficiency by eating a healthy diet can be so protective.

Vitamin K Types:

Many people don’t realize that there is more than one type of vitamin K. There are actually two main forms of vitamin K that we acquire from our diets: vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is also called phytonadione, while vitamin K2 is referred to as menaquinone.

  • Vitamin K1 is mostly found in vegetables, while vitamin K2 is found in fermented dairy products and is also produced by the bacteria in our guts.
  • While vitamin K1 is found in plant foods that are very healthy for many reasons, such as green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale, broccoli and cabbage, it’s vitamin K2 that seems to be most beneficial for protecting the heart. The menaquinone form of vitamin K (vitamin K2) seems to be more effective than vitamin K1 at preventing and reversing arterial calcifications that lead to heart-related problems.
  • The best way to get the daily requirement of both types of vitamin K is by eating foods a variety of whole foods, including green plant foods but also raw, fermented dairy products (like yogurt or raw cheese), fish and eggs that provide vitamin K2.
  • Additionally, there is a synthetic version of vitamin K which is called vitamin K3, but I do not recommend getting your required vitamin K this way. Instead, eat plenty of whole foods that are high in vitamin K and other important nutrients too.

What Is Vitamin K Deficiency?

Vitamin K deficiency occurs when you either consume less vitamin K than you need, or you can’t absorb enough from your diet. The amount of vitamin K that you are able to absorb from your diet is related to the intestinal bacteria that you have, so your level of vitamin K can drop greatly depending on your overall health, especially your gut/digestive health.

How much vitamin K do you need to prevent a deficiency?

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin K depends on your gender and age; other factors, such as breastfeeding, pregnancy and illness, will also alter your RDA. The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following as adequate intakes of vitamin K: (4)

Infants:

  • 0 – 6 months: 2.0 micrograms per day (mcg/day)
  • 7 – 12 months: 2.5 mcg/day

Children:

  • 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

Vitamin K Deficiency Symptoms + Risk Factors/Causes

What happens to the body if there is a deficiency of vitamin K? Vitamin k deficiency symptoms can impact the skin, heart, bones, vital organs and gut. Here’s what you need to know about the most common vitamin K deficiency symptoms: (5)

  • A warning sign of a vitamin K deficiency is excessive bleeding and bruising easily, due to abnormalities of coagulation factors that help with blood clotting. This bleeding can sometimes begin as an oozing from the gums or nose. Heavy bleeding can also occur from wounds, punctures, and injections or surgical sites.
  • Heavy and sometimes painful menstrual periods (called menorrhagia, which can affect up to 10-20 percent of reproductive-age women). (6)
  • Bleeding and hemorrhaging within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This can cause blood in the urine and/or stool.
  • Bone density loss.

What is the most common cause of vitamin K deficiency?

According to the American Association of Clinical Chemistry, vitamin K deficiency occurs usually occurs when you either don’t consume enough from your diet, your body can’t properly absorb vitamin K from the intestinal tract, or you have decreased storage of the vitamin due to liver disease. Another contributing factor can be decreased production in the intestines. (7) A deficiency can also be a result of taking certain medications long term because of these how affect cholesterol levels needed for nutrient absorption and the bacteria in your intestines.

What types of conditions may lead to vitamin K deficiency? Risk factors for developing vitamin K deficiency include:

  • Poor Gut Health — When the body lacks enough vitamin K, it goes into emergency mode, keeping up only the critical functions needed for immediate survival. The result is that the other vital processes break down and leave the body vulnerable to weak bones, cancer development and heart. Because vitamin K is produced by healthy bacteria in the gut, any disruption in the intestines — like leaky gut syndrome, for example — can result in a decreased ability of the body to absorb or produce enough vitamin K.
  • Suffering from Intestinal Problems — This can include chronic irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease. These health problems may prevent your body from absorbing enough vitamin K.
  • Poor Diet — Poor diet that provides low levels of vitamin K1 and K2 is one of the factors that greatly plays into a vitamin K deficiency.
  • Other Existing Health Problems — Having gallbladder or biliary disease, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, gluten sensitivity or celiac disease can also increase your chances of developing vitamin K deficiency.
  • Taking Antibiotics Long-Term.
  • Taking Cholesterol-Lowering Medications.
  • Taking Blood Thinners — Blood thinners, dealing with long term hemodialysis, and suffering from a serious burn may lead to a vitamin K deficiency.

7 Vitamin K Benefits

1. Supports Heart Health 

Vitamin K has been shown to help prevent calcification of arteries, one of the leading causes of heart attacks. It works by carrying calcium out of the arteries and not allowing it to form into hard, dangerous plaque deposits.

A study published in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal points out that vitamin K helps to prevent hardening of the arteries because it can keep calcium out of your artery linings and other body tissues, where it can cause damage. (8)

This is especially true for vitamin K2, which is the vitamin that is made naturally in the bacteria of your intestines. Vitamin K2 can help optimize use of calcium, preventing any potential negative health impacts associated with increased calcium intake, which is common in industrialized nations( including the U.S.).

Some studies show that vitamin K is a critical nutrient for reducing inflammation and protecting cells that line blood vessels, including both veins and arteries. Consuming proper levels of vitamin K is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure and decreasing the chances of cardiac arrest.

2. Improves Bone Density

Vitamin K increases the amount of a specific protein required to maintain bone calcium, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Some studies on vitamin K have even found that high intakes of vitamin K can stop bone loss in people with osteoporosis.

Your body needs vitamin K to use calcium to build bones. Osteocalcin help take calcium from the blood circulation and bind it to the bone matrix, which makes the skeleton stronger and less susceptible to fracture. However, osteocalcin need vitamin K2 to become fully activated andto  properly bind calcium. (8)

There is increasing evidence that vitamin K can improve bone health and reduce the risk of bone fractures, especially in postmenopausal women who are at risk for osteoporosis. (9) According to recent research, men and women with the highest intake of vitamin K2 (which is found in dairy products and is produced naturally in your intestines) are 65 percent less likely to suffer a debilitating hip fracture as compared to those with the lowest intake of vitamin K2.

These studies have demonstrated that vitamin K can not only increase bone mineral density in osteoporotic people, but it can reduce fracture rates as well. (10)

There is also strong evidence that vitamins K and Vitamin D, a classic in bone metabolism, work together to improve bone density. There is increasing evidence that vitamin K positively affects calcium balance in the body, and calcium is a key mineral in bone metabolism. Studies of male and female athletes have also found that vitamin K helps with bone health. (8) For people who are already injured, consuming enough Vitamin K foods can help prevent sprained ankles and to help heal broken bones.

3. Helps with Menstrual Pain and Bleeding

Vitamin K can help to reduce PMS cramps and other menstrual pains by regulating the function of your hormones. Because vitamin K is a blood clotting vitamin, it can also help with excessive bleeding during the menstrual cycle and offer pain relief for PMS symptoms.

Excessive bleeding leads to more cramps and pain during your menstrual cycle. Many studies show that since vitamin K can help with the symptoms of PMS, the opposite is also true: A vitamin K deficiency will only make these symptoms worse.

Vitamin K Benefits4. Fights Cancer

Vitamin K has been shown to be a natural cancer fighter and  effective in reducing the risk of prostate, colon, stomach, nasal and oral cancers. One study even found that high doses of vitamin K helped patients with liver cancer stabilize and even improve their liver function.

One study showed that an increase in dietary intake of vitamin K is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular, cancer or all-cause mortality in a Mediterranean population at high cardiovascular disease risk. (11)

5. Helps Blood Clotting

Vitamin K clots blood and stops your body from bleeding or bruising easily. The blood clotting process is very complex, as it requires at least 12 proteins to function before the process can be completed. Four of these protein clotting factors require vitamin K for their activity; therefore, vitamin K is essential. Because vitamin K helps to facilitate in blood clotting, it plays an important role in helping to heal bruises fast and also heal cuts.

Haemorrhagic disease of newborns (known as HDN) is a disease where blood clotting does not properly take place. This is developed by a newborn babies because of a vitamin K deficiency. One study found that it is necessary to give newborns a vitamin K injection at birth in order to safely eradicate HDN; this practice has been proven to be harmless for newborns. (12)

6. Improves Brain Function

A study found that vitamin K dependent proteins are particularly important for the brain. Vitamin K participates in the nervous system through its involvement in sphingolipid metabolism, which is a class of naturally occurring molecules that are widely present in brain cell membranes.

Sphingolipids are biologically potent molecules involved in a wide range of cellular actions, and they are known for their structural role in building and supporting the brain.

There is also growing evidence that vitamin K has anti-inflammatory activity and can protect your brain against oxidative stress caused by free radical damage. Oxidative stress can damage your cells and is thought to be involved in the development of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and heart failure (13).

7. Helps Maintain Health of Gums and Teeth

A diet low in fat soluble vitamins including vitamin A, C, D and vitamin K has been linked to having more cavities and symptoms related to gum disease. Beating tooth decay and gum disease requires you to increase your fat soluble vitamins that play a role in bone and teeth mineralization.

A healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals helps to kill harmful bacteria that live in the mouth and produce teeth damaging acids. Vitamin K is one nutrient that works with other minerals and vitamins to kill bacteria that destroy tooth enamel resulting in tooth decay, and also provides teeth with the proper minerals they need to remain strong.


Dangers of Vitamin K Deficiency

As explained above, some evidence shows that a vitamin K deficiency in adults can increase the risk for: heart disease, weakened bones, tooth decay and cancer.

Vitamin K deficiency alters the formation of vitamin K-dependent clotting factors. This means that clotting factors cannot perform coagulant action and hemorrhages are more likely to occur. (14) In some patients, excessive bleeding affects menstrual periods, while in others hemorrhages may form in the intestinal tract, leading to inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease.

Vitamin K Deficiency in Newborns and Infants:

Researchers have known for years that newborn babies are born with a vitamin K deficiency, having lower levels of vitamin K present in their bodies than adults do. This deficiency, if it is severe enough, can cause certain diseases in newborn babies, such as a hemorrhagic disease, known as HDN (15). Severe vitamin K deficiency is more common in babies that are born pre-term.

Studies have shown that because babies are born with lower levels of bacteria in their intestines, sometimes they do not convert enough vitamin K from foods or break milk. The lower level of vitamin K in newborns is attributed to both lower levels of bacteria within their intestines and also to the poor ability of the placenta to transport the vitamin from the mother to the baby. Aside from this, vitamin K is known to exist in lower concentrations in breast milk (perhaps due to the medications often given to mothers that inhibit vitamin K uptake). This is why babies who are breastfed may be more inclined to have a vitamin K deficiency (16).

It is usually protocol to give newborns a vitamin K injection upon birth to prevent bleeding and HDN development. While Vitamin K injections are widely accepted, there are many chemical components in the shots that can affect an infant’s development, so not every healthcare provider recommends using them. I would recommend instead using naturally sourced oral vitamin K drops without the synthesized vitamin K or added chemicals.


How to Get Vitamin K in Your Diet

The number one vitamin k deficiency treatment is improving your diet so that you get more natural vitamin K (both types 1 and 2). The very best way to prevent vitamin K deficiency is to consume plant and animal foods that provide high levels of vitamin K1 and k2, along with working on improving absorption and gut health.

The daily value (DV) for vitamin K is about 90 mcg for adults; I recommend you aim to get at least 40 mcg 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. (17)

Aside from eating animal-derived foods to get vitamin K2, which are the best sources of vitamin K1 to consume daily? Here are some of the top vitamin K1 foods:

1) Dandelion Greens

1 cup raw: 428 (535%)

2) Mustard Greens

1 cup raw: 278 mcg (348%)

3) Swiss Chard

1 cup raw: 298 mcg (over 100% DV)

4) Spring Onions (Scallions)

1 cup: 207 mcg (249% DV)

5) Brussel Sprouts

1 cup raw: 156 mcg (195%)

6) Turnip Greens

1 cup: 138 mcg (173% DV)

7) Spinach

1 cup: 145 mcg (181% DV)

8) Kale
1 cup raw: 112 mcg (over 100% DV)

9) Broccoli
1 cup: 92 mcg (116% DV)

10) Asparagus

1 cup uncooked: 55 mcg (70%)

11) Sea Vegetables (kelp)
1 cup: 52 mcg (64% DV)

12) Cabbage
1 cup raw: 31 mcg (40% DV)

13) Cucumbers
1 cup: 17 mcg (22% DV)

14) Cauliflower
1 cup raw: 16 mcg (20% DV)

 

Best sources of vitamin K

Vitamin K Supplementation Dosage

If you’re going to take vitamin K in supplement form, I recommend consuming a form that is fermented and provides about 40–70 mcg of vitamin K per day. Supplementing with vitamin K may be helpful in some instances, but the goal should be to get plenty from your diet. Surveys have found that most adults can enough from a healthy, varied diet. In adults aged 20 and older, the average daily vitamin K intake from foods is 122 mcg for women and 138 mcg for men (this increases to 164 mcg for women and 182 mcg for men when food and supplement intake is combined). (18)

I don’t recommend taking high doses of vitamin K for several reasons. The first reason is because it doesn’t seem to have the same benefits as real vitamin K from foods. Secondly, high doses may interfere with absorption of other nutrients.

Vitamin K works with the other nutrients that are important to your bone health, such as calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium. These nutrients ensure that your bones stay strong. If you are consuming too much vitamin K (you have excess vitamin K), then vitamins A and E may compete for absorption with vitamin K. But this is only if you are taking high doses of supplemental vitamin K, not if you are getting your vitamin K from foods.

If you’re pregnant, nursing, or you take medications to treat an existing health condition, here’s what you need to know about vitamin K supplements:

  • If you are pregnant or nursing, you should avoid vitamin K supplements that have a higher dose than the recommended daily allowance. This may pose risks and is not recommended.
  • If you have experienced stroke, cardiac arrest, or are prone to blood clotting, you should not take vitamin K without first consulting your physician.
  • If you take blood thinning drugs, you may need to limit vitamin K foods. You should know that vitamin K, or foods containing vitamin K, can affect how these drugs work. This is particularly true for natto, which contains a lot of one specific type of vitamin K2 known as MK-7 — that’s one food you should probably never eat while taking blood thinners. (19)
  • If you take antibiotics for more than ten days, you may need to increase your intake of vitamin K because antibiotics can kill the bacteria in your intestines, which is what allows your body to absorb vitamin K.
  • Orlistat, a medication that used for weight loss, and Olestra, a substance that is added to some foods, can lower the amount of fat that your body can absorb; because vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, this can minimize your vitamin K levels. Doctors who prescribe Orlistat will typically suggest that you take a multivitamin as well, and The Food and Drug Administration now requires that all food containing olestra must add in fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and E.
  • Medications that are used to reduce cholesterol will reduce how much fat your body absorbs, and may also reduce absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Speak to your doctor in order to ensure that you are getting enough vitamin K if you take these kinds of medication.
  • Be careful if you take vitamin E supplements because vitamin E can interfere with how vitamin K works in your body.

Vitamin K Recipes

In order to naturally add more vitamin K1 and K2 to your diet, try consuming whole food sources including raw fermented dairy products (like cheese or yogurt), plenty of leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and sea vegetables. Try making some of these recipes rich in vitamin K:


Final Thoughts on Vitamin K Deficiency 

  • Vitamin K is beneficial for bone building, blood clotting, controlling calcium absorption, protecting the heart and support brain health.
  • There are two types of vitamin K: K1 and K2. K2 seems to be most important for bone and heart health.
  • Signs of vitamin K deficiency include excessive bleeding, bruising, heavy periods, hemorrhaging and bloody stools.
  • Causes of vitamin K deficiency can include low dietary intake, poor gut health, having any health conditions that affect absorption, and taking certain medications.
  • Foods that provide vitamin K1 include mostly green or cruciferous veggies like spinach, kale, broccoli, brussel 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.

Read Next: Do You Have a Vitamin D Deficiency?


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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