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Vitamin K Supplements

By on Jun 27, 2013

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Who’s at Risk of Vitamin K Deficiency?

There are many people who could benefit from vitamin K supplements. People on restricted diets are thought to have a higher risk of deficiencies of vitamin K due to lower food intake and poorer variety of foods, as well as malabsorption issues and possible interaction with medications.

People who have problems absorbing nutrients from their foods are at particular risk of vitamin K deficiency, with caution warranted in the following conditions:

  • Gallbladder or biliary disease
  • Celiac disease (severe gluten allergy)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Leaky gut syndrome
Vitamin K supplements

Vitamin K Supplements

Other risk factors for vitamin K deficiency include the use of blood-thinning medications such as Coumadin (warfarin), liver disease, serious and/or extensive burns and long-term haemodialysis. In addition to problems of vitamin K insufficiency when long-term antibiotics and anticoagulants are used, cholesterol-lowering drugs that work by reducing fat absorption may also impair absorption of vitamin K.

Newborns and Vitamin K Injections

It is still common practice in a number of countries, including the US, Canada and Great Britain, to administer vitamin K injections to all newborns to reduce the risk of a rare but fatal vitamin K deficiency complication of bleeding in the brain. Breast milk contains little of the vitamin and babies are not normally born with high circulating levels, nor do they have the intestinal bacteria to synthesise vitamin K themselves. Babies with mothers who took anti-seizure medication during pregnancy or who were born prematurely are at particular risk of vitamin K deficiency. Supplements may be provided for mothers on such medications for two weeks prior to their due date.

Vitamin K and the Menopause

Prior to the menopause, circulating oestrogen has a beneficial effect on bone density in women. Post-menopause, levels of oestrogen fall and the body finds it harder to maintain good bone health, causing an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. With vitamin K being so important to the incorporation of calcium into the bones, there is some suggestion that postmenopausal women can benefit from supplements of the vitamin when they have risk factors for osteoporosis. The research remains somewhat divided on the potential benefits of vitamin K for younger athletes, both male and female, with some studies suggesting that the nutrient can boost bone health and other studies finding no effect.

Vitamin K-Rich Foods

There are a variety of foods containing vitamin K, but it is important to note that the vitamin is fat-soluble so can easily be lost when frying these foods, unless the oil itself is consumed. Freezing also appears to destroy vitamin K in some cases, so fresh foods from the following list are the best options for vitamin K:

  • Green tea
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens
  • Cabbage
  • Asparagus
  • Dark-leafed lettuce varieties
  • Chlorophyll-rich algae
  • Fermented foods, particularly natto (fermented soybeans)

Consuming sufficient quantities of these foods to rebuild stores after severe deficiency may prove difficult and so some physicians will recommend patients in this situation take a supplement. Taking a vitamin K supplement without first consulting a physician is not advised as it may, among other things, reduce the efficacy of certain anticoagulants taken for heart and circulatory conditions – it is not recommended to take vitamin K alongside warfarin, for example.

Vitamin K Supplements

Vitamin K supplements come in a variety of forms so it is important to know the names of the chemical forms of vitamin K available. Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) is the natural form of the vitamin found in food sources; the synthetic K1 is known as phytonadione. Menaquinone is vitamin K2 and menaphtione or menadione are known as vitamin K3. Most supplements will be vitamin K1 and are often sold as 5mg supplements or as part of a multivitamin tablet or green food supplement containing chlorophyll.

Which is the Best Vitamin K Supplement?

All-round supplements containing natural forms of the vitamin may be the preferred option for those with intestinal issues and problems with malabsorption as they are likely to be lacking in other nutrients for this reason. Severe vitamin K deficiency is likely to be treated with a vitamin K shot at the doctor’s office, possibly followed by oral vitamin K supplements until blood levels begin to be back in the optimal range. Adults are thought to need between 90-120 micrograms of vitamin K a day, which is easily achievable through food sources and bacterial synthesis of the vitamin for most people.

The role vitamin K plays in the body is still not fully understood but there is growing evidence that it is involved in more than just blood clotting and bone health. Although deficiencies are not common they are still a risk, particularly for the elderly, those on restricted diets or with particular medical conditions and for those taking certain medications. With a variety of food sources of vitamin K available and natural vitamin K supplements also accessible over the counter, vitamin K deficiencies can usually be prevented but it is important to discuss concerns with a qualified physician if signs of vitamin K deficiency arise.