What is Vitamin K and Why is it Important?
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for blood clotting and bone health. It plays a crucial role in activating the proteins that help our blood clot, which is essential for wound healing and preventing excessive bleeding. Vitamin K also helps regulate calcium levels in our bones and blood vessels, which is essential for maintaining strong bones and healthy arteries.
Despite its importance, vitamin K is often overlooked and misunderstood. Unlike vitamins C and D, which are well-known and widely promoted, vitamin K is often overshadowed by other nutrients. However, recent research has shown that vitamin K deficiency is common, particularly in certain populations, and can lead to serious health problems.
Brief History and Discovery
The discovery of vitamin K dates back to the early 20th century, when scientists first identified a substance in alfalfa that promoted blood clotting in chickens. This substance was later named vitamin K, with the "K" standing for "koagulation," the German word for clotting.
Since then, researchers have discovered that there are two main forms of vitamin K: vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), which is found in leafy green vegetables, and vitamin K2 (menaquinone), which is produced by bacteria in our intestines and is also found in certain fermented foods. Vitamin K3 (menadione) is a synthetic form of the vitamin that is used in some dietary supplements but is not as effective as the natural forms.
The primary dietary sources of vitamin K1 are leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, and broccoli. Other sources include Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and avocados. Vitamin K2 is found in fermented foods, such as natto (a Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans), cheese, and sauerkraut, as well as in animal products like egg yolks and liver.
While most people can get enough vitamin K from their diet, some populations are at risk of deficiency. Newborn infants, for example, are often born with low levels of vitamin K and may need a supplement to prevent bleeding. People with gastrointestinal disorders that affect nutrient absorption, such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, may also be at risk of deficiency. Additionally, certain medications, such as warfarin, can interfere with vitamin K absorption and increase the risk of bleeding.
Functions in the Body
As mentioned, vitamin K plays a crucial role in blood clotting and bone health. In addition to activating the proteins that help our blood clot, vitamin K also helps prevent calcification (hardening) of our arteries and may reduce the risk of heart disease. Some studies have also suggested that vitamin K may have anti-inflammatory effects and may help protect against certain types of cancer.
Recommended Daily Intake
The recommended daily intake of vitamin K varies by age and gender. According to the National Institutes of Health, adult men need 120 micrograms (mcg) per day, while adult women need 90 mcg per day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need slightly more. However, these recommendations may not be adequate for everyone, particularly