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Ellie MD
06/19/2024
5 min read

We frequently hear about vitamins B, C, D, and E, and most of us have a pretty good idea of what each of them does. However, one vitamin that doesn’t get as much attention is vitamin K.

What Is Vitamin K?

Vitamin K is a lesser-known but crucial nutrient that plays several important roles in our bodies. Let’s explore what it does:

Vitamin K, identified in 1935, was first employed to avert unusual bleeding in chickens. It’s a fat-soluble nutrient present in leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and collard greens. In the human body, it aids in synthesizing proteins vital for bone formation and blood clotting. Due to its rapid breakdown, it seldom accumulates to toxic levels.

Types of Vitamin K

There are two main types of vitamin K:

  • K1 (Phylloquinone):
    • Found in plant foods like leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, collard greens).
    • Makes up about 75–90% of all vitamin K consumed by humans.
  • K2 (Menaquinones):
    • Found in fermented foods and animal products.
    • Also produced by gut bacteria.
    • Examples of foods with K2 include natto, pork sausage, various cheeses, pork chops, and egg yolks.

While it’s uncommon to consume excessive amounts of vitamin K, deficiencies can occur, particularly due to medications hindering its metabolism. Newborns are prone to deficiencies as the vitamin doesn’t transfer efficiently from mother to child through the placenta. Hence, infants often receive supplements at birth to aid in blood clotting.

Vitamin K and Cardiovascular Health

Previously, vitamin K was primarily associated with blood clotting. However, recent research has revealed its impact on heart health. As we age, calcium that should remain in our bones can accumulate in other areas, including the linings of major arteries. Over time, the smooth muscle cells in artery walls can transform into bone-like cells due to calcium deposition. This process contributes to what we now recognize as “hardening of the arteries” or late-stage atherosclerosis.

In 2016, scientists investigated the relationship between vitamin K intake and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Analyzing data from over 36,000 individuals over a 12-year period, they found that those with higher intakes of menaquinones (also known as vitamin K2) had a lower incidence of heart disease.

An earlier study revealed that individuals with the highest vitamin K2 intake were 57% less likely to die from coronary heart disease compared to those with the lowest intake. Additionally, research focused on women demonstrated a 20% lower risk of artery disease in those who consumed higher doses of vitamin K2. Notably, vitamin K1 did not significantly impact heart disease in most studies

Can Vitamin K Enhance Longevity?

Vitamin K offers benefits beyond heart health. Numerous studies have demonstrated its unique ability to activate proteins involved in conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer—common age-related diseases.

In a 2014 study, researchers investigated the relationship between dietary vitamin K intake and mortality in a group of over 7,000 individuals. Using a food frequency questionnaire, they tracked annual vitamin K intake. The findings revealed that those with the highest vitamin K intake had a 36% lower risk of death compared to those with lower intake.

Even if you’ve had low vitamin K intake in the past, increasing it can yield similar results. In other words, it’s never too late to start supplementing.

If you’re considering vitamin K supplementation, consult your doctor, especially if you’re taking blood thinners. Ellie MD is dedicated to providing up-to-date health information and personalized care to support your well-being. Remember that maintaining optimal vitamin levels plays a crucial role in living a longer, healthier life.

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