Vitamin K describes a group of compounds that are related to each other. One form of vitamin K called vitamin K1 is most abundant in vegetables, especially green, leafy ones like spinach, kale and mustard greens. Intestinal bacteria that make their home in the gut of humans and animals also produce vitamin K1. Vitamin K1 is important for normal blood clotting. A deficiency of vitamin K1 can lead to abnormal bleeding from the digestive tract, nose or gums. People who are most susceptible to vitamin K1 deficiency are newborn infants, since they don't have bacteria in their intestines to produce K1 at birth, people with liver disease and digestive conditions that reduce absorption of vitamin K1 and those taking blood thinners.
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Another form of vitamin K called vitamin K2 is less abundant in the diet of most people. That’s because the best source is fermented foods like aged cheese and a fermented soy product popular in Japan called natto. Vitamin K2 is also found in dairy products from grass-feed cow and organ meats. Researchers have been studying the possible health benefits of vitamin K2 over past few decades and are slowly beginning to understand its importance.
What Is Vitamin K Good For?
Some research suggests that vitamin K2 plays a role in bone health by helping to maintain bone density. Preliminary research shows that low levels of vitamin K2 reduce levels of osteocalcin, a protein important for strong bones. Some studies have also shown a link between low vitamin K intake and reduced bone density in women. A study also showed that supplementing with vitamin K2 reduced the risk of fractures in people with osteoporosis. Research also shows an association between vitamin K2 and improved bone density in children.
Vitamin K and Heart Health
Research also suggests that vitamin K2 may play in reducing arterial calcification that leads to heart disease. Some studies have linked higher intakes of vitamin K2 with a lower risk for heart disease. One possible reason is low levels of vitamin K2 reduce the function of a protein called MGP that helps to keep calcium from building up inside blood vessels.
Why Is Vitamin K Important?
Both forms of vitamin K are vital for good health, but most people get less vitamin K2 in their diet than they do K1. Vitamin K2 appears to be particularly important for bone health and may offer some protection against blood vessel calcification that leads to atherosclerotic heart disease, although more research is needed in this area. The problem with getting vitamin K2 through diet alone is the fact that it is found in a limited number of foods and some of the better sources like aged cheese and organ meats are also high in saturated fat, which could be a negative when it comes to heart health. An alternative is to use a K2 supplement derived from natto, a source of vitamin K2 that most people don’t eat because of its rather unique odor.
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