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Everyone knows about vitamin C. It fights the common cold, boosts immunity, and even improves skin. You may know about vitamin D. It fights disease, helps your mood, and regulates calcium. Vitamin A from sweet potatoes and vitamin B from salmon, and even omegas 3-6-9 are relatively well-known. But what about vitamin K?
What is Vitamin K?
This little-known superstar is responsible for healthy bones, improved cardiovascular health, and even a reduced risk of stroke. You may be unfamiliar with vitamin K. You may not know its benefits. You may not know where it comes from. But this essential vitamin can quite literally change your life.
Vitamin K comes in two fat-soluble vitamin forms. The primary form is called phylloquinone (vitamin K1), and you can find it in green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach. The other most common form is menaquinones (vitamin K2), which you can get through animal products and fermented food. Menaquinones is considered “nonessential,” since it can be produced by bacteria in the human body.
Perhaps the most vital function of vitamin K is strengthening you bones. And I know what you’re thinking:
But Charlene, isn’t that what milk does?”
Well, yes. But not without vitamin K. Vitamin K works with calcium to promote strong bones. And this is important. More than 50 million Americans have low bone density – or osteoporosis. About 38% percent of people over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis; a woman over 50 is as likely to die from a hip fracture as she is from cancer in her entire lifetime.
In fact, osteoporosis in America is responsible for at least 2 million broken bones and $19 billion in healthcare costs. And poor bone density is NOT a part of healthy aging. Calcium and vitamin D are important, but they’re virtually worthless without vitamin K.
Vitamin K is not an essential nutrient, meaning our bodies produce it naturally. The liver, brain, heart, pancreas, and bones all produce some level of vitamin K. Unfortunately, it’s easily broken down and we lose most of it through our bodily fluids. But there’s GOOD NEWS!
You can get all the vitamin K your body craves through proper nutrition.
If you search for “vitamin K,” you’ll find that there are two primary types: vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is found in leafy green vegetables, while vitamin k2 is found in animal products like liver and poultry. They each have different benefits and come from different places. To make things easy, I’ll cover some of the top nutrition benefits of vitamin K1 and K2, PLUS how to make sure you get enough… naturally.
Benefits of Vitamin K1
One of the most important jobs that vitamin K serves is blood clotting. Without it, every little cut would bleed indefinitely, inviting infection and more serious complications. This benefit is exclusively thanks to vitamin K1. This vitamin is on the “A-team” as far as vitamin K is concerned. It’s less toxic, stronger, faster, and overall more effective for most health conditions.
While bone health and osteoporosis generally take center stage when discussing vitamin K, regulating your cardiovascular system may be its most important function: heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S and (as of 2016) the world. In 2016, nearly 18 million people died because of heart disease. Most of these deaths were avoidable.
Due to poor diet, environmental toxins, and stress, many people suffer from hypertension, or high blood pressure. Toxins in our diet and environment can cause arterial buildup, and stress can put undue pressure on the cardiovascular system, leading to strokes, heart attacks, and more.
But vitamin K1 works to prevent those things. K1 prevents mineral buildup in your arteries, which allows the heart to pump blood (and therefore oxygen) throughout the body. When our arteries are blocked, it can work much like a clogged toilet: the clean water can’t get through, and the toxic water builds up.
One of the most common symptoms of aging is arterial blockage. As toxins and stress accumulate, our arteries become blocked and our hearts are forced to work harder. Most doctors will simply prescribe a pill to help thin your blood. Its brand name is Warfarin, and nearly 30 million American take it every day.
But our ability to clot is imperative to our health. Vitamin K1 is a natural blood thinner, helping to keep your arteries free and clear of buildup. Even doctors with little nutritional training will recommend vitamin K to counteract the overprescription of these drugs. For those with cardiovascular disease who are worried that vitamin K1 may create too much clotting, know that this vitamin only activates proteins that help with clotting. Vitamin K does not produce blood clotting proteins.
Vitamin K1 is also an astounding anti-inflammatory. As you probably know, chronic inflammation is at the root of most chronic disease – including cancer. But studies have shown that vitamin K, along with vitamin D, can actually help reduce inflammation. What’s more, vitamin D alone was not associated with reduced inflammation, suggesting that vitamin K1 is a vital anti-inflammatory.
Sources of Vitamin K1
Fortunately, sources of K1 are relatively clean. It’s almost exclusively found in plants, which means your local farmer’s market probably has some organic, non-GMO options. The foods most plentiful in K1 are leafy greens like kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts. Collard greens, broccoli, and other dark green veggies are also great sources.
Watercress may be one of the best sources of vitamin K, giving you more than 100% of your daily recommended allowance in a single cup. But what happens when vitamin K1 isn’t absorbed by your body?
Benefits of Vitamin K2
That’s where vitamin K2 comes in. Menanoquines, or vitamin K2, occur when your gut bacteria convert vitamin K1. For this reason, K2 can only be found in secondary sources, where bacteria have had a chance to convert vitamin K1. Animal products (especially the liver) and fermented foods are the best way to get vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 works with calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. Just like K1 works with proteins that promote clotting, vitamin K2 works with calcium and vitamin D to promote healthy bones. As we said before, brittle bones are a serious concern for people over 50, and a sign that you are not aging gracefully. But vitamin K2 promotes the bone health that you need to stay active and healthy.
Vitamin K2 is so vital to calcium regulation, that it’s even been shown to reduce vascular calcification where vitamin K1 didn’t. One set of studies showed that vitamin K2 was vital for preventing bone breaks. Seven different studies found that vitamin K2 reduced spinal fractures by 60%, hip fractures by 77% and all non-spinal fractures by 81%.
Along with bone health, vitamin K2 has been shown to promote dental health. Even better, vitamin K2 has been shown in studies to reduce your risk for liver and prostate cancers. Unfortunately, vitamin K2 is almost non-existent in the Standard American Diet (SAD).
The poor diet fed to our livestock is the reason that many animal products – especially processed foods – have almost no nutritional value. For animals to produce vitamin K2, they first require a sufficient amount of K1. That’s where “grass-fed” and “free-range” comes into play. It’s no secret that the agricultural industry pumps our food sources full of drugs and fake food. But there are ways to supplement your vitamin K2 levels.
Sources of Vitamin K2
The best source is your own body. A healthy gut contains trillions of organisms, including bacteria, yeast, and fungi. This collection of organisms is known as the “microbiota,” and it’s absolutely essential for good health. When you consume enough vitamin K1, your body will naturally produce K2. Consider it a “buy-one-get-one-free” sale for your diet. Eat the right foods, and your body will get all the K1 it needs AND produce K2 to boot.
But eating a ton of kale and Brussels sprouts can be difficult – especially if you’re breaking away from the Standard American Diet. Additionally, the overuse of antibiotics contributes to vitamin K2 deficiency (since they indiscriminately destroy gut bacteria). Supplementing your vitamin K2 input is important for bone health, cardiovascular health, and graceful aging.
Vitamin K2 it fat-soluble, which means lean meats won’t do you much good. Instead, opt for foods like grass-fed beef, egg yolks, and fatty organs like liver. For vegetarians and others who don’t consume animal products, look for fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, which are also great sources of K2.
Vitamin K: Pro Heart, Pro Healing, Pro Health
In addition to cardiovascular, inflammatory, and bone support, vitamin K is pro-brain health. Vitamin K deficiency is rare in adults, but more common in infants, especially those born preterm. This is likely because newborns have fewer gut bacteria to produce the essential vitamin (it’s also why giving an infant 6 vaccines at once is a BAD IDEA).
Pregnant women are also given a host of drugs that inhibit vitamin K in breast milk and the placenta, which is why many infants are given a supplemental vitamin K shot. While the concept is on point, these shots usually have harmful added chemicals, so it’s best to find a natural source of vitamin K instead of the synthesized stuff.
Vitamin K is also associated with leaky gut, a terrible condition affecting millions worldwide. To ensure proper vitamin K levels, it’s imperative that you maintain a healthy gut microbiome. If you choose to use supplements, our dear friend Dr. Josh Axe has some recommendations:
If you’re going to take vitamin K in supplement form, I recommend consuming a form that is fermented and provides about 40–70 mcg of vitamin K per day. Supplementing with vitamin K may be helpful in some instances, but the goal should be to get plenty from your diet. Surveys have found that most adults can enough from a healthy, varied diet. In adults aged 20 and older, the average daily vitamin K intake from foods is 122 mcg for women and 138 mcg for men (this increases to 164 mcg for women and 182 mcg for men when food and supplement intake is combined).”
For healthy bones, cancer prevention, cardiovascular health, and reduced inflammation, the best thing you can do is eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin K and keep your gut healthy. Vitamin K is a little-known superstar when it comes to health and longevity, so make sure you’re giving you body as much as you can!
Foods High in Vitamin K
Vitamin K is responsible for healthy bones, improved cardiovascular health, and even a reduced risk of stroke.
Vitamin K works with calcium to promote strong bones.
Regulating your cardiovascular system may be its most important function.
Vitamin K1 is also an astounding anti-inflammatory.
Foods rich in Vitamin K:
- Dandelion greens