The evidence continues to mount: green leafy vegetables, healthy animal fats, and fermented foods provide powerful nutrients. Vitamin K is found in such foods and is essential for cardiovascular, bone, and neurological health, to name a few benefits science is still unraveling. However, today’s Western diet isn’t abundant in foods supplying vitamin K, so it’s vital to add them to your daily menu or consider taking a supplement.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin essential to your health with wide-ranging health benefits that scientists are still discovering.
Vitamin K is best known for helping the body form clots, protecting cardiovascular health, and strengthening bones.
Studies say it may also improve neurological health and slow cancer growth, among other benefits.
A well-rounded diet can provide enough vitamin K. However, today's Western diet lacks many foods high in vitamin K.
If your diet lacks this vitamin, consider taking a vitamin K supplement.
What is vitamin K?
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin essential to your health. The body absorbs and delivers fat-soluble nutrients in fat molecules. This means fatty foods like dairy and meat are good sources of fat-soluble vitamins. It also means they're metabolized and stored differently in your body than water-soluble vitamins.
The most prevalent forms of vitamin K are vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Both are essential, but science has yet to surface their differences fully.
Vitamin K1, also called phylloquinone, is the most common form found in leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin K2, also called menaquinone, is made by the healthy bacteria in your gut and is found in animal products and fermented foods packed with beneficial bacteria.
Vitamin K activates proteins, referred to as vitamin K-dependent proteins (VKDPs), to carry out powerful tasks in more ways than we currently understand. As with many nutrients, scientists say they've barely scratched the surface of vitamin K's benefits since discovering it in the 1930s.
Benefits of vitamin K
Below you will find 5 most notable benefits of vitamin K.
Helping the body form blood clots
Vitamin K is best known for its ability to help the body form blood clots. The authors of the 2019 review published in the Journal of Nephrology confirm that the body requires various proteins for coagulation, which is the medical term for blood clotting.
Vitamin K is essential for many of these vitamin K-dependent proteins (VKDPs) to function, which means these proteins cannot complete their work without vitamin K.
Keeping bones and teeth strong
Vitamin K is also known for strengthening bones and teeth. One way it does this is by supporting a protein called osteocalcin — the most abundant protein in bone tissue. Osteocalcin and other VKDPs help reinforce bones in a variety of ways, and they require vitamin K to do so.
Using other proteins, vitamin K may also support your bone marrow and reduce the incidence of osteoarthritis.
Supporting cardiovascular health
Vitamin K's impact on cardiovascular health is also well-supported. The same 2019 review discusses various VKDPs that may reduce calcifications in arteries. It also discusses a study noting a VKDP called Bone Gla protein that strengthens arterial walls in diabetic patients.
Furthermore, a different 2019 review of current research published in the European Journal of Nutrition found evidence that getting enough vitamin K in your diet is linked to a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease.
The review also found a link between vitamin K deficiency and a higher risk of death. However, as with many recent vitamin K studies, these studies show associations between vitamin K and C, which is weaker scientific proof than causation.
Supporting cell health
VKDPs may also slow cancer progression by promoting cell health and inhibiting cancer cell growth. Even more, based on current research, scientists hypothesize that vitamin K may offer future treatments for several types of cancer.
Other benefits of vitamin K
The earlier mentioned review from the Journal of Nephrology discusses even more possible benefits of vitamin K, noting that some VKDPs may reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance male fertility.
Another study published in 2022 found that vitamin K may powerfully support the health of nerve cells, also known as neurons. The study's authors report promising hope for Alzheimer's patients.
The same study also reported that vitamin K might inhibit the effects of Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis (MS). A different study focused on MS found significant vitamin K deficiencies in MS patients, suggesting that vitamin K may be a possible treatment for MS.
Other studies suggest a relationship between vitamin K and neurological conditions, an important finding since these diseases are increasing worldwide.
Getting enough daily vitamin K
The daily recommended amount of vitamin K is currently 120 mcg for men older than 19 and 90 mcg for women older than 19. For breastfeeding parents, 90 mcg is recommended. These recommendations may change as research on vitamin K increases.
People who eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet get enough vitamin K. However, in today’s busy lifestyle, it can be difficult to consume a well-rounded diet. To eat enough vitamin K1 and vitamin K2, you must eat plenty of green vegetables, fruits, animal products, and probiotic foods. Kale, spinach, turnip greens, Brussels sprouts, and dandelion greens are some of the top vitamin K1-packed greens. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir offer vitamin K2. Animal products, like high-fat dairy products and egg yolks, also provide dietary vitamin K2. Consider taking a vitamin K supplement if you don't eat these foods.
Vitamin K – when to talk with your doctor
If your diet lacks foods with high levels of vitamin K, it's appropriate to consider taking a supplement instead. Contact your doctor if you have any new symptoms after starting a vitamin K supplement.
If you're on blood thinners like warfarin or have a history of cardiovascular disease, talk with your doctor before increasing your vitamin K intake. You may still be able to eat foods with vitamin K as long as you eat a consistent amount. However, you'll have to balance that intake with your warfarin dose according to your doctor's instructions.
Some medications may lower the level of vitamin K in your body, like certain antibiotics that kill healthy gut bacteria that produce vitamin K. Other drugs like sevelamer, bile acid sequestrants, and orlistat may reduce your vitamin K levels. Talk to your doctor about countering these effects if you're on any of these medications.
Further vitamin K research
More research is needed to prove current studies on vitamin K. One problem with existing research is the need for increased standardization. Most studies on vitamin K don't follow specific dosage or research standards, making claims hard to confirm.
The research on vitamin K's impact on your health is promising. However, science still has a long way to go to fully surface and prove its effects and possible therapeutic value.
There are still more vitamin K-related roles to be uncovered and which will further our understanding of the physiological and pathological importance of vitamin K status.Scientists of a 2019 review report
- Journal of Nephrology. Vitamin K effects in human health: new insights beyond bone and cardiovascular health.
- European Journal of Nutrition. Association of vitamin K with cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
- Molecular Biology Reports. The emerging relationship between vitamin K and neurodegenerative diseases: a review of current evidence.
- The Central European Journal of Medicine. Vitamin K2 in multiple sclerosis patients.
- Semantic Scholar. Vitamin K effects in human health: new insights beyond bone and cardiovascular health.