The interesting thing about vitamin K is that its benefits keep expanding. Researchers have long known that it was essential for blood clotting. Then they learned that it helps build bones and prevents the buildup of calcium in soft tissues, where it doesn't belong. Now attention has turned to the important contribution of vitamin K in the brain and nerves.
Avoid Vitamin K Deficiency
Vitamin K is produced by bacteria in the large intestine, but that won’t give you enough to stay healthy. Women should get 90 micrograms of vitamin K through their daily diet, while men need 120 micrograms, reports the Office of Dietary Supplements.
If your diet is short on some of the most common sources of vitamin K -- spinach and other leafy greens, broccoli and vegetable oils such as soybean and canola -- supplements can help fill in the amount you need.
Supplemental vitamin K may also be needed if you have inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, short bowel syndrome or other conditions that interfere with its absorption.
Ensure Normal Blood Clotting
Whether bleeding is caused by a small cut or a deep wound, the only way it stops is through a chemical process called blood coagulation or clotting. Normal clotting depends on vitamin K, which is used to make proteins responsible for the coagulation cascade.
People who are at risk for developing unwanted blood clots may take medications that inhibit the activity of vitamin K. If you take anti-coagulants such as warfarin, don’t change the amount of vitamin K in your diet until you talk to your doctor. Increasing or decreasing the amount of vitamin K you eat can affect how well your medication works.
Maintain Strong Bones
Chances are you associate calcium and vitamin D with strong bones, but vitamin K is just as important for optimal bone density.
Several vitamin K-dependent proteins regulate bone metabolism. Some help prevent the loss of bone minerals, while others regulate the uptake of calcium as needed to maintain bone density, notes Bastyr University.
Getting the right amount of vitamin K, vitamin D and calcium throughout your life may reduce the risk of breaking a bone by as much as 25 percent, according to a review in Osteoporosis International in November 2012.
Protect Blood Vessels and Brain
Hardening of the arteries develops when calcium mixes with cholesterol stuck to blood vessel walls. A vitamin K-dependent protein known by the acronym MGP is one of the most important inhibitors of arterial calcification, reported Advances in Nutrition in March 2012.
Vitamin K participates in the synthesis of special lipids called sphingolipids, which are important in the brain. Among other jobs, sphingolipids form the myelin sheath, which covers every nerve cell and regulates the cell’s electrical transmission. It essentially acts like an insulator, which allows your nerves to communicate easily.
Getting enough vitamin K may have cognitive benefits. One study found that older men and women with higher blood levels of vitamin K had better memory and cognitive function than study participants with lower levels of vitamin K, according to the Neurobiology of Aging in December 2013.
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin K
- National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, Drug-Nutrient Interaction Task Force: Important Information to Know When You Are Taking Warfarin (Coumadin) and Vitamin K
- Bastyr University: Vitamin K
- Osteoporosis International: Vitamin K Supplementation for the Primary Prevention of Osteoporotic Fractures: Is it Cost-Effective and Is Future Research Warranted?
- Advances in Nutrition: The Role of Vitamin K in Soft-Tissue Calcification
- Seminars in Thrombosis and Hemostasis: Vitamin K and Brain Function
- Neurobiology of Aging: Vitamin K Status and Cognitive Function in Healthy Older Adults
- Medical Biochemistry Page: Synthesis of Sphingosine and the Ceramides
- Photo Credit Brilt/iStock/Getty Images
Foods Without Vitamin K
Vitamin K is important for healthy bones and the ability of your blood to clot, but if you are on blood-thinning medication,...