Being Well

How Vitamin K Deficiency Affects Your Health

Vitamin K is an unsung hero but plays an important role in your overall health. Here's what you need to know about the nutrient, vitamin K deficiency and the best source of the vitamin.

There are some vitamins that get all the attention — A, C, D and the buzzy B vitamins. But there are vitamins you may not be familiar with that also play a critical role in your overall health. One such nutrient is vitamin K.

While vitamin K deficiency is rare, here’s what you need to know about this vitamin and why it’s an important part of your diet.

Why Do You Need Vitamin K?

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays three main roles in keeping you healthy.

Its most important job is to regulate your body’s response to injuries. Your body needs vitamin K to synthesize proteins needed for normal blood clotting. If you don’t have proper K stores, you may experience nosebleeds, bleeding gums, heavy menstrual bleeding, blood in your stools or urine or other bleeding problems, as the American Society of Clinical Oncology describes. You may bruise easily as well.

Vitamin K is also needed for bone metabolism and mineralization. Inadequate vitamin K in your diet could lead to low bone mineral density and may increase your risk for osteoporosis and fractures. Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those with higher dietary vitamin K intake had a 35 percent lower risk for hip fracture compared to those with the lowest intake.

Lastly, vitamin K may prevent abnormal buildup of minerals in blood vessels, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Some studies, like this one published in the Journal of Nutrition, have found that an increased intake of vitamin K is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality.

Who’s at Risk of Vitamin K Deficiency?

If you eat a healthy and balanced diet, you’ll likely meet your daily needs and are unlikely to experience a deficiency. Recommended daily intake is 90 micrograms per day for women and 120 micrograms per day for men.

There are some people, however, who are at greater risk for vitamin K deficiency, according to the National Institutes of Health. Individuals with chronic health conditions that may affect their ability to absorb nutrients — like cystic fibrosis, celiac disease and ulcerative colitis — may not be getting enough.

Some cancer patients, particularly those with advanced cancer, may be at risk of vitamin K deficiency, according to the Journal of Clinical Pathology. Since chemotherapy can cause nausea and a poor appetite, you may not take in enough of the nutrient.

There are also some medications that can interfere with vitamin K absorption, such as antacids and antibiotics. If you’re taking these medications, talk to your doctor about whether you should also take a supplement. If you’re taking anticoagulants or having a bleeding disorder, your doctor may need to routinely monitor your vitamin K status.

Best Sources of Vitamin K

Vitamin K is found in many green vegetables available at your local market, such as spinach, broccoli, kale and iceberg lettuce. It’s also abundant in soybean and canola oil. To increase the amount of the nutrient you absorb from your food, pair your vegetables with oil. Other good sources include fermented foods such as natto (fermented soybeans) and cheese.

Vitamin K is an unsung hero, but it plays an important role in your overall health. Stock up on vitamin K-rich foods and incorporate them regularly into your meals for a balanced diet.

The UVA Cancer Center offers comprehensive resources and information about staying healthy through balanced nutrition.

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Christine Yu