What Does Vitamin K Do to Your Body?


What does vitamin K do to your body? Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin.  Your body usually needs them for essential processes. In this article, we will cover what vitamin K is and its health function. We will also discuss what foods rich in vitamin K can do for you.

Health Functions

You are probably wondering what vitamin K does to your body? In that case, we should find out why this nutrient is essential. First, vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that it needs fat so it can be absorbed by the body. It has two naturally occurring forms. The last one is what results after conversion.

The three vitamin K forms include:

  • Phylloquinone (K1)
  • Menaquinones (K2)
  • Vitamin MK-4 (K3)

For the most part, phylloquinone (K1) comes from leafy green vegetables. Meanwhile, you can find menaquinone (K2) from animal sources and fermented foods. Vitamin MK-4 (K3) is produced by your body through a conversion process.

Vitamin K has specific health functions for the body. That is why it’s important to have a lot of them. Existing bacteria in your gut can produce some vitamin K. However, this amount is not enough. Therefore, it’s essential to get these from dietary sources. Below are some of the health functions that vitamin K does in your body:

 

Blood Clotting 

Vitamin K is very important in the systems involved in blood clotting. It functions as a coenzyme for an enzyme required in protein synthesis. Coenzymes are molecules that help speed up the reactions in your body. The protein prothrombin is essential in blood clotting. It also helps thicken the blood. Therefore, vitamin K is a direct precursor for it. This same vitamin can also help make another three proteins needed for blood clotting.

Blood clotting is important for wound healing. However, in some cases it can be dangerous for individuals that are more prone to blood clots. This is especially true in certain parts of the body, like the brain. This could lead to devastating consequences like stroke and heart attacks. Because of this, people on blood thinner medications should be careful with taking too much vitamin K. This is because  it can cause blood clots.

 

Bone Health 

Aside from being part of blood clotting, vitamin K is also essential in bone health. It helps in increasing bone mineral density. Calcium and vitamin D are primordial for bone mineralization and strength. Vitamin K has also been essential in preventing osteopenia and osteoporosis. 

Studies have shown that consuming vitamin K in conjunction with vitamin D can help. They may increase your bone metabolism and maintain calcium balance. We now know that vitamin K is involved in producing osteocalcin. This is a protein regulated by vitamin D. It has a mineral-binding capacity that is vitamin K dependent

 

Heart Disease Prevention 

In recent years, studies have proven that vitamin K might lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. It is especially true for those related to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of substances in your artery walls. They might narrow or block your blood flow. The mechanism through vitamin K reduces the risk of calcification deposits in your arteries. They do this through the activation of the Matrix Gla-protein (MGP). This is in charge of reducing abnormal calcium deposits in tissues, particularly the heart.

Because of this, vitamin K might be a good predictor for future heart complications. You may be able to check your risk for heart disease, atherosclerosis, and more.

Disease Risk Reduction

Vitamin K is essential in blood clotting. Therefore, when this vitamin level is low, it might lead to increased bleeding. Hemorrhages and excessive bleeding are signs of vitamin K deficiency. However, they might not occur until vitamin levels are extremely depleted.  

Vitamin K is also involved in bone mineralization. Taking this vitamin could reduce the risk for bone mineral disorders. These include osteopenia and osteoporosis. In some cases, vitamin K intake is not sufficient. Therefore, it can lead to depletion of osteocalcin. This may further reduce your calcium levels.

Finally,  vitamin K can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It also helps prevent the calcification of blood vessels. Low levels of this vitamin could promote vascular calcification. Once there are signs of calcification, the risk for heart disease becomes evident. A healthy diet that includes vitamin K could help reverse it.

Groups at Risk

For the most part, healthy individuals will not be at risk for a vitamin K deficiency. This is especially true if you have a varied diet.  However, there is a small group of individuals that could face low vitamin K levels. In these cases, it could become dangerous. The groups most at risk include newborns and infants. Those with malabsorption problems might also be at risk. People who drink certain medications or have extreme diet restrictions may have this deficiency too. 

 

Newborns and Infants 

Newborns might not have vitamin K in their bodies. This is because they have no bacteria in their gut. They also receive very little through the placenta. Without the good bacteria in your gut to absorb it, there are no stores of this fat-soluble vitamin. Newborns may receive some vitamin K through breastmilk. However, it is not enough to prevent deficiency.

Without vitamin K, babies are more at risk for a disorder. This is called vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). This disorder occurs when babies cannot stop bleeding.  Their bodies are unable to form blood clots due to this deficiency. For the most part, newborns and infants may bleed from their intestines or into their brains. This can lead to damage and even death.

To prevent a deficiency and illness, newborns need a vitamin K shot at birth. If that does not happen, the shot needs to be administered shortly after. Mothers must be certain not to use medications that interfere with vitamin K. This is to make sure their babies will not be at risk.

 

Malabsorption Disorders 

Individuals may suffer from certain chronic illnesses, like cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and short bowel syndrome. This might prevent them from absorbing vitamin K properly. The symptoms and signs might not be obvious. However, these people should have testing done. This is to check for fat-soluble vitamins regularly.

 

Medications 

Certain medications can also alter your vitamin K absorption and metabolism. This makes individuals more at risk for deficiency. Some of these may include antibiotics that might destroy your gut bacteria. Other medications may be bile acid sequestrants. These may help lower your cholesterol levels by reducing bile production. However, this can also impair absorption of vitamin K. Weight loss drugs can also prevent absorption of dietary lipids. This in turn reduces the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D and K.

 

Eating Disorders and Extreme Diets 

While not always the case, those with eating disorders may also be at risk for vitamin K deficiency. This is because they may undergo extreme dieting or restrict intake. This is also true for those on extreme diets. If they stop eating vitamin K-rich foods, they might face a decrease in vitamin K levels. Foods rich in vitamin K include dates, leafy greens, onions, and healthy oils. Some extreme diets may recommend against eating them. 

Intake Recommendations

Vitamin K intake is based on dietary reference intakes (DRIs). These are usually determined by health organizations. In this case, an adequate intake (AI) assures that you have enough vitamin K in your diet. 

The following values have been established as AIs for vitamin K. For those that are not familiar with it, mcg stands for microgram. 

  • Birth to 6 months: 2.0 mcg for males and females
  • 7-12 months: 2.5 mcg for males and females
  • 1-3 years: 30 mcg for males and females
  • 4-8 years: 55 mcg for males and females
  • 9-13 years: 60 mcg for males and females
  • 14-18 years old: 75 mcg for males and females, and pregnant or lactating women
  • 19 years and over: 120 mcg for males, 90 mcg for females, and pregnant or lactating women

To ensure adequate intake, individuals should know which foods are high in vitamin K. So, what fruit is high in vitamin K? A limited number of fruits is high in vitamin K. They include pomegranates, blueberries, figs, grapes, and kiwi.

If you want a list of foods high in vitamin K, look no further than green leafy vegetables. These vegetables include kale, spinach, and broccoli. Brussels sprouts, asparagus, collard greens, are good too. We also recommend adding more green turnips, parsley, okra, and Swiss chard into your diet.

Other foods that are a good source of vitamin K are soybeans, carrots, and edamame. Pumpkins, pine nuts, cashews, and canola oil are good too. We recommend eating some chicken, ground beef, ham, cheese, milk, and eggs. Consuming Vitamin K with a fat source, like olive oil or avocado, can help increase absorption. 

 

Vitamin K Content of Dates 

Even though they are not the best food that contains vitamin K, dates do have some levels of this vitamin. For a 100 grams serving, you’ll be able to get  2.7 mcg of vitamin K. This may seem like a small number. This is especially true if you consider other foods that you are eating during the day. Therefore, dates can add to this reserve of vitamin K.

Dates are also high in other nutrients. These include vitamin A, vitamin E, B vitamins, and vitamin C. It also contains a lot of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium. All of these can work alongside vitamin K. These, along with antioxidants in dates, can help in preventing heart disease and osteoporosis.

 

As you can see, vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble vitamin for many bodily processes. While you might not realize it, this vitamin is present in various processes in your body. These reactions help prevent illness. Even when deficiency is not common, it can occur in specific cases. Therefore,  adequate intake of this vitamin is very important. You can prevent low vitamin K levels by eating foods high in vitamin K. We recommend making them part of your regular diet.

 

Written by:

Juliana Tamayo, MS

Nutritionist

Reviewed by:
Registered Dietitian
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