Amongst the myriad of vitamins and minerals filling our medicine capsules, there are some that are bound to get lost in the shuffle. Vitamin K is one of those micronutrients that often gets glossed over in favor of vitamin D or magnesium, but it plays a crucial role in our bodies. Some hints: stronger bones and supporting healthy blood function. Not too shabby, eh?
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it’s stored in fat tissue so our bodies can reap the benefits later when needed. Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, says this differs from water-soluble vitamins like C and B, which leave the body quicker. There are technically two types of K vitamins: K1 (phylloquinone) and K2 (menaquinones), which is made mostly by gut bacteria. And both of them are important for your overall health.
While topical use of vitamin K might banish those embarrassing hickeys, here are some internal health benefits that prove why it deserves its own blue ribbon.
What are the most important vitamin K benefits?
1. Vitamin K supports proper blood clotting: “Vitamin K1 is essential for our bodies to produce prothrombin, a protein that allows our blood to clot and stop the bleeding,” Zeitlin says. It also contains four of the 13 proteins essential for blood clotting. Next time you trip on the cold, hard concrete and scrape your need to oblivion? Thank K for doing the heavy lifting to quickly heal your wound.
2. It helps us maintain healthy bones: Zeitlin says vitamin K2 specifically keeps bones strong and helps prevent osteoporosis “by helping us utilize our calcium efficiently for bone health.” One study examined the diets of over 72,000 women and found low vitamin K intake was linked to increased risk of hip fracture and lower bone mineral density. Further research doubles down on this relationship.
A power couple of sorts, vitamin K and D also work together to make sure calcium goes to your bones, essential for a healthy skeleton. Snack on eggs for a dose of both vitamins—yolks included.
3. It could be a brain power pick-me-up: “Vitamin K has been shown to help boost mental cognition by showing an improvement in memory, especially in older adults,” Zeitlin says. One study found people over 70 years old with high levels of vitamin K performed best when it came to verbal episodic memory. There’s also growing evidence vitamin K-dependent proteins help brain function, although further research is needed.
4. Vitamin K boosts heart health: Pump one out for the heart. Research shows vitamin K can help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and keep calcium from building up in the arteries. “It helps to prevent mineralization blockage, and keeps blood pressure lower so the blood pumps more freely through the body,” Zeitlin says. This can even contribute to a reduced risk of stroke.
What are the best sources of vitamin K?
When waltzing through the grocery store, you’ll need to pick up a couple different food sources to get both K1 and K2. “When it comes to vitamin K1, think greens,” Zeitlin says. This means cruciferous veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens, and spinach. “Added plus with eating these foods,” Zeitlin says, “is that they will also help to fight bloat and promote motility thanks to their fiber.”
To get your K2, reach for animal products like eggs and dairy, or a vegan option like fermented foods like natto, a Japanese fermented soybean. Zeitlin notes you can also get the vitamin from grass-fed meat, because the animals make their own K2 from eating grass.
Can you get too much vitamin K?
Unlike other vitamins and minerals, it’s difficult to binge too hard on vitamin K-rich foods. FWIW, the recommended intake of vitamin K is 90 mcg for women and 120 mcg for men. It’s also rare to be deficient in vitamin K1, although K2 deficiencies can arise in newborns or those with malabsorption problems from chronic issues like ulcerative colitis or Celiac disease. That can bring on excessive bleeding, decreased bone health, or an increased risk of heart disease (a.k.a. essentially the opposite of the benefits above). This however isn’t a huge concern for healthy adults.
However, if you’re on blood-thinner meds, hit the pause button before upping your vitamin K intake. Because of its blood-clotting power, a vitamin K supplement can hinder the effectiveness of the medicine. Chat with your doctor about how much vitamin K-heavy foods you’re eating, or before taking supplements.
Thankfully, for most people, vitamin K is an important vitamin that is relatively easy to get from a healthy diet. “Be aware of (and eat!) the different food sources of each type of K to keep your levels in check,” Zeitlin says. “The whole food is always the gold standard of ways to get in your vitamins.” Simple enough!
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