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What Are the Benefits and Side Effects of Vitamin K?


What Are the Benefits and Side Effects of Vitamin K? 

Vitamin K may not be as popular as other vitamins. But it is an essential vitamin sourced through diet. Vitamin K is a group of fat-soluble vitamins that help with several bodily functions. Some of its core functions are blood clotting and bone health. 

Vitamin K is available in two forms in our diet. Vitamin K1, phylloquinone, is the primary dietary source found in leafy green vegetables. Vitamin K2, menaquinones, is synthesized by gut bacteria and obtained from animal products. This article explores the importance of this essential vitamin, its deficiencies, and how to include them in your diet

The Benefits of Vitamin K

Blood Clotting

Vitamin K is crucial in prothrombin production, a protein essential for blood clotting. Deficiency can lead to excessive bleeding, internally and externally. Newborns are particularly susceptible as their vitamin K stores are low at birth. This is why a vitamin K shot should be administered to newborns to prevent hemorrhagic disease of the newborn (HDN).

Bone Health

Vitamin K activates proteins involved in bone mineralization, influencing bone density and strength. Studies suggest adequate vitamin K intake may reduce the risk of fractures, particularly in older adults. 

Cardiovascular Health

Research suggests vitamin K may play a role in preventing heart disease by inhibiting vascular calcification, and the hardening of arteries. However, more research is needed to solidify this connection.

Natural Sources of Vitamin K

Vitamin K is abundant in various plant-based and animal-based foods. Here's a list of some rich sources:

  • Leafy Green Vegetables: Kale, collard greens, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip greens are all excellent sources of vitamin K1.
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and green beans also contain vitamin K1, although in lower amounts than leafy greens.
  • Fermented Foods: Sauerkraut, natto (a fermented soybean dish), and miso are rich sources of vitamin K2 produced by bacterial fermentation during the preparation process.
  • Cheese: Hard cheeses like gouda, cheddar, and parmesan contain vitamin K2.
  • Eggs and Meat: While not as rich as the above sources, eggs and meats like liver and grass-fed beef contain small amounts of vitamin K2.

What is the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of Vitamin K?

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin K varies depending on age and sex. Here's a general guideline:

  • Newborns: 2 mcg
  • Babies (6 to 12 months): 2.5 mcg
  • Children (1-3 years): 30 mcg
  • Children (4-8 years): 55 mcg
  • Children (9-13 years): 60 mcg
  • Teens (14-18 years): 75 mcg (males), 65 mcg (females)
  • Adults (19+ years): 120 mcg (males), 90 mcg (females)
  • Pregnant women: 90 mcg
  • Lactating women: 90 mcg

It's important to note that these are RDIs, and achieving them through a balanced diet is generally sufficient for most healthy individuals.

What are the Signs of Vitamin K Deficiency?

Vitamin K deficiency is uncommon in healthy individuals with a varied diet. However, certain factors can increase the risk, such as:

  • Malabsorption issues: Conditions like celiac disease or cystic fibrosis can hinder vitamin K absorption from the gut.
  • Long-term use of antibiotics: Antibiotics can disrupt gut bacteria responsible for vitamin K2 synthesis.
  • Warfarin use: Warfarin (Coumadin) is a blood-thinning medication that antagonizes vitamin K's activity. Individuals on warfarin therapy need to be monitored closely to ensure adequate vitamin K intake without compromising the medication's effectiveness.

Symptoms of vitamin K deficiency can include:

  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Blood in stool or urine
  • Nosebleeds
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding

If you experience these symptoms, consult your healthcare provider to determine the cause and receive proper treatment.

What are the Side Effects of Vitamin K?

Vitamin K from food sources is generally safe when consumed in recommended amounts. In rare cases, high doses of vitamin K supplements might cause:

  • Stomach upset or diarrhea
  • Increased sweating
  • Cramps

Injections of vitamin K can cause mild side effects like:

  • Pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site
  • Dizziness
  • Flushing
  • Rapid heartbeat.

Severe allergic reactions to injectable vitamin K are rare.


Pregnant and breastfeeding women

As mentioned earlier, while vitamin K is crucial for both mother and baby, high doses of supplements during pregnancy (exceeding recommended intake) might be harmful to the baby and cause complications like birth defects or jaundice. Pregnant women should consult their healthcare provider to determine the appropriate vitamin K intake through diet or low-dose prenatal vitamins.

Breastfeeding mothers typically don't require additional vitamin K supplementation as breast milk naturally contains small amounts.

Individuals on blood-thinning medication

If you take blood-thinning medications like warfarin, it's crucial to maintain a consistent vitamin K intake. This is because vitamin K is essential for blood clotting, and significant fluctuations in intake can interfere with the medication's effectiveness. Consult your doctor about dietary adjustments or low-dose vitamin K supplementation to ensure optimal medication response without compromising vitamin K status.

Vitamin K Interactions with Medications

Certain medications can interact with vitamin K, affecting its absorption or effectiveness. These include:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins)
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Antibiotics

If you take any of these medications, discuss vitamin K intake with your doctor to ensure there are no potential interactions.

How to Ensure Adequate Vitamin K Intake

Maintaining a balanced diet rich in vitamin K-containing foods is the most effective way to meet your daily requirements. Here are some tips:

  1. Incorporate leafy green vegetables: Aim for at least 2-3 servings of kale, spinach, collard greens, or other leafy greens per week.
  2. Explore fermented foods: Include fermented options like sauerkraut, kimchi, or natto in your diet for a boost of vitamin K2.
  3. Choose healthy fats: Opt for healthy fats like olive oil or avocado oil, which can aid vitamin K absorption from your diet.
  4. Consider a low-dose supplement: If you have concerns about meeting your vitamin K needs through diet alone, discuss a low-dose vitamin K supplement with your doctor. However, prioritize dietary sources whenever possible.


Vitamin K is an essential micronutrient for blood clotting, bone and cardiovascular health. By incorporating a variety of vitamin K-rich foods into your diet and consulting your doctor if needed, you can ensure you're getting enough of this essential vitamin for optimal health. Remember, a balanced diet is the foundation of good nutrition.


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