Benefits of Vitamin K
Vitamin K has relatively fewer roles in bodily processes than many other nutrients. However, the roles it does play are essential for health. Additionally, recent research is finding that vitamin K may have more benefits and functions than previously thought. Vitamin K’s most important health benefits include:
- Vitamin K’s most important function is in aiding proper coagulation. Coagulation is better known as blood clotting. The “K” in vitamin K actually originates from the German word for blood clotting: koagulation. Blood clotting is a critical function for normal health and healing of injuries, both internally and externally.
- Vitamin K helps the body to transport calcium throughout the body. It is thought that this makes vitamin K an important nutrient for maintaining healthy bones. Studies indicate that there is a connection between low levels of vitamin K and osteoporosis. Getting sufficient amounts may help prevent bone loss, and lower the risk of suffering from bone fractures. Taking a vitamin K supplement may help to increase bone mass in post-menopausal women.
- Higher blood serum levels of vitamin K have been associated with better episodic memory in older people. One study found that healthy people older than 70 who had highest levels of vitamin K in their blood also had better verbal episodic memory.
- Vitamin K may function to moderate blood pressure levels by inhibiting mineralization. Mineralization can cause minerals, such as calcium, to build up in blood vessels. Preventing this build up allows blood to flow more easily through arteries and veins, keeping blood pressure levels in a normal range. Mineralization also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Vitamin K intake has been correlated with a lower risk of suffering a stroke.
- Vitamin K also helps maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Function of Vitamin K
Vitamin K is an umbrella term that describes a group of fat soluble compounds which are 2-methilo-naphthoquinone derivatives. These compounds are chiefly responsible for helping blood to coagulate correctly. Vitamin K can be found in three main forms, K1, K2, and K3.
Vitamin K1 (also known as phytonadione, phylloquinone, and phytonactone) is generally found in plants, like green, leafy vegetables. Vitamin K2 (also known as menaquinones) is produced in the intestines by bacteria. Vitamin’s K1 and K2 function in very similar ways. Vitamin K3 (also known as menadione) is a synthetic form of the vitamin, occassionally used in supplements.
Vitamin K1 is the most common type of vitamin K and is the most available in food sources. It is usually found in plant-based foods. Vitamin K2 comes from animal-based foods and fermented food products, where the vitamin is produced by bacteria. Additionally, Vitamin K2 is the type of the nutrient created in the intestines by bacteria.
Some quantity of vitamin K is stored inside the body. Most of this supply is stored in the liver and bones. However, the amount of vitamin K stored is only sufficient to supply the body’s needs for a short period of time.
Vitamin K is crucial for proper blood clotting and is believed to be important for overall bone health. It also functions to inhibit the mineralization and calcification of blood vessels and other body tissues. It may also function to help regulate blood sugar levels.
Vegetables are the best dietary sources of vitamin K. Green, leafy vegetables, in particular, are very rich sources of the nutrient. Kale, spinach, and various types of greens can provide the daily requirement of vitamin K in a single serving. Fermented soy products are also high in vitamin K. There are also a variety of legumes, nuts, fruits, and dairy products that contain moderate amounts.
A vitamin K deficiency is somewhat rare. However, it can occur if there is a problem normally absorbing nutrients through the intestines. Also, there is an increased risk of deficiency when taking oral antibiotics for long periods. Infants have a much higher risk of having a deficiency than adults.
Toxicity is rarely seen in connection with the natural types of vitamin K (K1 and K2), even with large dosages.
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Creative commons image credits: Joanne Mitchell | 3D render of a human blood clot formed in vitro under flow; Jojo | Surgical neck fracture of humerus