Why should you be concerned about vitamin K?

The health benefits of getting enough vitamins C and D, calcium, and iron are widely documented. These nutrients help to strengthen our immune systems, create and maintain healthy bones, and, in the case of iron, allow our cells to manufacture energy.

However, you may not have given vitamin K much thought. However, you should.

This lesser-known nutrient appears to serve a significant role in healthy aging, according to growing data. Here's what you need to know.

The fundamentals of vitamin K

This fat-soluble vitamin is available in two forms. Our main food supply is phylloquinone, also known as vitamin K1. It is abundant in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, as well as several vegetable oils.

Vitamin K2, on the other hand, is a group of chemicals known as menaquinones. K2 can be found in meat, dairy, eggs, and fermented foods such as cheese and natto (fermented soybeans).

The most well-known function of vitamin K is to aid in the regular clotting of our blood. Scientists are discovering, however, that the vitamin has crucial roles other than blood clotting.

Bone health and vitamin K

According to research, eating too little vitamin K may weaken your bones as you age. This is due to the fact that vitamin K activates essential proteins in the body that help to form and strengthen bones.

Large observational studies have linked higher vitamin K1 intake to a decreased incidence of hip fracture. In one study of over 800 senior men and women, those whose daily meals contained the greatest vitamin K1 (254 mcg) compared to those with the least (56 mcg) had a 66% lower risk of hip fracture.

In Japan, where vitamin K2-rich natto is a traditional dish, postmenopausal women who eat natto every day had a considerably slower rate of bone loss over three years than those who did not.

Heart health and vitamin K

A higher vitamin K intake and higher vitamin K blood levels have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in a number of studies.

A recent Danish study published in August discovered that among 53,000 adults followed for 23 years, those who consumed the most vitamin K1 (192 mcg per day) – versus those who consumed the least (57 mcg) – were 21% less likely to be hospitalized for cardiovascular disease related to atherosclerosis (such as plaque build-up in the arteries). Higher vitamin K2 intakes were also protective.

Vitamin K stimulates the activity of a specific protein that inhibits arterial calcification, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Vascular calcifications are calcium deposits on blood artery walls that induce constriction and decreased blood flow. In addition, vitamin K may help to lessen inflammation in the body.

How much, and what foods?

The appropriate intake (AI) for vitamin K, determined in 2001, is based on how much healthy people consume. For women, the daily AI for vitamin K is 90 mcg and for men, it is 120 mcg. This amount is not known to be ideal for bone or heart health.

Green leafy vegetables are the richest sources of vitamin K1. For every half-cup cooked, spinach has 445 mcg, Swiss chard contains 286 mcg, collard greens contains 386 mcg, kale contains 246 mcg, and broccoli contains 110 mcg.

Kale has 472 mcg of K1 per cup raw, spinach has 145 mcg, and romaine lettuce has 45 mcg. If you enjoy tabbouleh, a quarter-cup of chopped parsley has 246 mcg. A tablespoon of olive oil has 10 mcg of K1 while a tablespoon of canola oil contains 8 mcg of K1.

Natto is a good source of vitamin K2, with 850 mcg per three-ounce meal. Cheese, eggs, liver, meat, poultry, and fish all contain trace levels of K2.

Include a source of fat in your diet, such as oil, avocado, nuts, or seeds, to boost vitamin K absorption.

If you use warfarin, a prescription anticoagulant used to prevent blood clots, you must consume an adequate dose of vitamin K every day. Any significant changes in vitamin K intake can impair warfarin's capacity to thin the blood.

Do you think you'll need to supplement?

Multivitamins, bone health supplements, and single vitamin K1 or K2 supplements all contain vitamin K.

There is minimal and inconclusive evidence that vitamin K1 or K2 supplements improve bone health. While emerging data from small trials on supplementation and heart health is encouraging, there isn't enough evidence to suggest the necessity for a specific vitamin K supplement at this time.

Consume leafy greens on a daily basis to obtain your vitamin K. A multivitamin supplement can also help your diet.

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