Eat lots of leafy vegetables, oKay?

Vitamin K doesn’t typically get as much media attention as other vitamins, but this lesser known nutritional family plays a key role in helping the blood clot and preventing excessive bleeding.

Vitamin K refers to two naturally occurring fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is made by plants and Vitamin K2 is typically produced in the large intestine by bacteria. Vitamins K3, K4 and K5 also exist — they are synthetic forms and are used to inhibit fungal growth as well as by the pet food industry. Vitamin K also is involved in building bone, and low levels of circulating Vitamin K have been linked with low bone density. In fact, research indicates that healthy Vitamin K intake can help reduce incidences of hip fractures from falls as we age and help strengthen bone mass, overall.

Vitamin K helps make four of the 13 proteins needed for blood clotting. Its role in maintaining proper clotting is so important that people who take anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin) must be careful to keep their vitamin K intake stable.

Only one in four Americans gets enough Vitamin K through his or her diet. Produce containing Vitamin K1 includes green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, romaine, and green leaf lettuce, as well as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and cabbage. Vitamin K2 compounds are found in meats, cheeses and eggs, and are synthesized by bacteria. Other good sources of Vitamin K include beans and soybeans, strawberries, and fish.

Vitamin K1 is the main form of vitamin K supplement available in the U.S., though it’s not typically prescribed. Low levels of vitamin K can raise the risk of uncontrolled bleeding. While vitamin K deficiencies are rare in adults, they are very common in newborn infants. A single injection of vitamin K for newborns is standard. Vitamin K is also used to counteract an overdose of the blood thinner, Coumadin.

While vitamin K deficiencies are uncommon, you may be at higher risk if you:

  • Have a disease that affects absorption in the digestive tract, such as Crohn’s disease or active celiac disease
  • Take drugs that interfere with vitamin K absorption
  • Are severely malnourished
  • Drink alcohol heavily

Side effects of oral vitamin K at recommended doses are rare. However, many drugs can interfere with the effects of vitamin K. They include antacids, blood thinners, antibiotics, aspirin, and drugs for cancer, seizures, high cholesterol, and other conditions. You should not use vitamin K supplements unless your healthcare provider tells you to. People using Coumadin for heart problems, clotting disorders, or other conditions may need to watch their diets closely to control the amount of vitamin K they take in.

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