The Health Benefits of Vitamin K

The Health Benefits of Vitamin K

Introduction & Biological Activity

Vitamin K is an essential, fat soluble vitamin, discovered in the first half of the 20th century. It’s well known role in helping form blood clots led it to be called “antihemorrhagic factor” and interestingly, the name "K" comes from the German/Danish word koagulationsvitamin (clotting vitamin). Vitamin K also refers to a set of structurally similar molecules such as phylloquinone, phytonadione, or menaquinones ( MK-4, and MK-7).

Because vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin, it requires a functioning pancreas and biliary tree to adequately absorb. It is protein bound, and pancreatic enzymes strip it off the proteins, then it gets absorbed into enterocytes (gut cells) via micelles, attached to chylomicrons (a lipoprotein) and transported to various destinations, namely the liver.

Vitamin K is an essential component of the coagulation cascade, which is part of the process by which your bodies blood clots. This is a normal part of how your body manages and stops bleeding, and not referring to things like DVT or strokes.

It is also a co-factor for some proteins used in bone formation and certain glycoproteins. Although it shares some relationship with managing bone mineral density, it’s ability to prevent it via supplementation is not well documented in the literature.

Vitamin K Supplement Options

Potential Medical Benefits

Alzheimer’s disease

It may be neuroprotective against diseases like alzheimer’s

Cardiovascular disease.

May reduce coronary artery calcification, although it’s impact on cardiovascular events is not well studied. Because it promotes synthesis of coagulation products, it’s utility in the treatment of vascular disease is unlikely.

Healthy Bones

Early evidence suggests it may improve bone mineral density and reduce risk of fracture.


It may reduce the risk of recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer.


Toxicity is exceptionally rare. The tolerable upper limit is not well known.


Clinical signs and symptoms of vitamin K deficiency include easy bruisability, mucosal bleeding which is bleeding in your GI tract, splinter hemorrhages which are tiny blood clots under the nail, and blood in stool and urine. Essentially, your body develops a diet-derived bleeding disorder. Deficiency of vitamin K is usually associated with malabsorptive diseases such as cystic fibrosis or diseases of the gallbladder and biliary tree.

Deficiency is also associated with bone diseases (osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, fractures, etc) and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, it is a common problem in newborns and they receive a vitamin K dose shortly after delivery. If it is not replaced, they are at risk of vitamin K deficiency of the newborn, which presents with bleeding similar to what I described above. The reason for the deficiency is because of the immature liver in the newborn is incapable of efficiently utilizing vitamin K.

Best Dietary Sources

Dark green or leafy green vegetables. This is why people on coumadin are supposed to be very attentive to their salad and spinach intake! It is also produced in the gut by intestinal bacteria.

Recommended Daily Allowance

The RDA in women is 90 micrograms in women and 120 in men in the US, and is based roughly upon 0.75-1 mcg/kg bodyweight. It can be supplemented in one of three forms; Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) or one of two possible Vitamin K2s (menaquinones), MK-4 or MK-7. Supplementation, however, is not generally required as most people obtain enough from dietary sources.

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