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The New Superfood You Need in Your Diet
Every year, it seems that a new nutrient is listed as the most important. This year, the newcomer on the scene is vitamin K. Learn more about this vitamin and what it can do for you below!
Last year, several new nutrition studies rocked the health industry, like the proof that saturated fat does not cause heart disease, and the realization about how important vitamin D is for total health. But on the heels of this information, comes new shocking evidence that may be even more important to your health.
According to researchers, many Americans are missing a vital nutrient essential to health: vitamin K.
Vitamin K is a nutrient found in either leafy vegetables or fermented foods. Vitamin K1 is found in many leafy greens, and vitamin K2 is found in fermented foods. According to vitamin K expert, Dr. Leon Schurgers, vitamin K is essential for healthy thrombosis function (blood clotting). Both forms of vitamin K provide clotting function in the body.
According to Dr. Schurgers, both vitamin Ks help with four coagulation factors. Without vitamin K, blood cannot clot properly, which is why many hospitals give newborns vitamin K shots because newborns are lacking in vitamin K. However, new research also has found that vitamin K may also be helpful for many other processes in the body, and may actually be one of the most important vitamins of all. Read more about the health benefits of vitamin K below.
At first, researchers thought that vitamin K1 and K2 were the same and had the same effect in the body, but a study from 2004 published in the Journal of Nutrition (and authored by Dr. Schurgers) changed this idea.
In the study, researchers measured the vitamin K content of foods and their absorption rate in the body. What the researchers found surprised them. Vitamin K1, found in leafy greens, has an absorption rate of only 10 percent. This means that although a ¼ cup of cooked spinach contains 246 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K, your body only absorbs 24 percent of the daily recommended amount. This means that to get 100 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K1 for cooked spinach, you would have to eat over a cup of cooked spinach each day. You would have to eat 5.5 cups of raw spinach each day to reach this number, which is unrealistic for most diets.
However, when the researchers started to measure the vitamin K2 content in foods, they found that not only is it only present in fermented foods only, but that the absorption rate of the body is almost 100 percent. To put this in perspective, a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food study in 2006 found that a daily intake of just 33 micrograms of vitamin K2 per day had a significantly protective effect against heart disease.
A single egg yolk contains 15.5 micrograms of vitamin K2- meaning that if you just eat two egg yolks a day, you are getting enough vitamin K for the day.
Strangely enough, the 2006 study found that animals with a moderate amount of fat had the highest levels of vitamin K2, rather than high-fat or low-fat animals.
Although vitamin K is best-known for its clotting powers, it also has many other benefits in the body. According to research from the past 30 years, vitamin K is also vital for bone health, vascular health, and heart health. Vitamin K also has important benefits beyond healthy blood clotting. In the 1980s, it was discovered that vitamin K is needed to activate the protein osteocalcin, which is found in your bone.
Aside from blood clotting, the second most important job for vitamin K just might be how it protects bone health. Both calcium and vitamin D are extremely important for bone health, but new studies have found that adding vitamin K to the mix can improve bone health. According to a study from 2001 published in the journal Nutrition, increasing vitamin K intake to 90 micrograms daily for women and 120 micrograms daily for men has a protective effect on bone health.
In fact, the study authors stated, “…vitamin K can not only increase bone mineral density in osteoporotic people but also actually reduce fracture rates. Further, there is evidence in human intervention studies that vitamins K and D, a classic in bone metabolism, works synergistically on bone density.”
According to this study, both vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 had beneficial effects on bone density.
The study on vitamin K from 2006 found that the presence of vitamin K2 had an incredibly protective effect on heart health. Just 33 micrograms of vitamin K2 taken daily had a protective effect on preventing heart disease. Researchers believe that this is due to the calcification-inhibiting effect that vitamin K2 has on blood vessels.
Essentially, vitamin K2 is like a bottle brush for your veins, preventing dangerous buildup that can spike blood pressure and lead to heart disease. According to a study from 2013 conducted by Wake Forest School of Medicine, individuals who had the lowest vitamin K levels were 34 percent likely to have high blood pressure and the highest levels of coronary artery calcium.
There is also some evidence that high levels of vitamin K in the diet can also reduce cholesterol levels. A 1997 study published in the Japanese Journal of Pharmacology found that when rabbits were given 1 or 10 mg of vitamin K2 per day, they had significantly lower cholesterol levels than the rabbits on the control diet.
Since vitamin K prevents calcification in blood vessels, it also improves total vascular health. In fact, vitamin K2 might even be able to help prevent mental degeneration that occurs in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
A study published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association in 2008 found that elderly individuals who showed the first signs of developing Alzheimer’s disease had low daily intake of vitamin K and low levels of vitamin K in their bodies. However, further research is necessary to explore this connection before any definitive statements can be made.
Not everyone needs to take vitamin K supplements. In fact, most people will benefit more from simply adding a rotation of leafy greens and fermented foods (or pastured animal products) to their diets. However, in some cases, it may be necessary to supplement with extra vitamin K.
However, if you are taking anticoagulant medication, do not take vitamin K supplements without the approval of your doctor. Vitamin K has a relatively short half-life in the body. This makes it difficult to measure your resting vitamin K rate.
However, Dr. Schurgers states that a new enzyme test , called a enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA), is currently under development that will be available sometime later in 2015.
In general, if you have not eaten a routine amount of leafy greens or organic, pastured animal products and fermented foods, then you are probably at least a little low in vitamin K. You can either choose to add more of these foods to your diet to build up vitamin K levels over time, or, if you are facing osteoporosis, high blood pressure, or heart disease, taking additional vitamin K supplements can be helpful in addition to adding leafy greens and fermented foods to your diet.
According to Dr. Schurgers, supplementing with vitamin K will not cause the blood to over-coagulate or lead to the development of blood clots in normal, healthy people. However, individuals who are on anticoagulants (such as people who have had blood clots in the past) need to be careful about supplementing with vitamin K. Dr. Schurgers recommends having your vitamin K levels tested and then adding a steady intake of vitamin K in the diet to maintain your current levels (ideally from natural sources when on anticoagulants).
According to Dr. Schurgers, since anticoagulants block the absorption of vitamin K, when you take a high dose of vitamin K along with the anticoagulants, it actually causes the blood to thin too much- leading to serious problems. If you choose to supplement with vitamin K, studies showed that a daily supplement intake of 90 micrograms daily for women and 120 micrograms daily for men reduced the risk of numerous health problems and build stronger bones.
For maximum effect, vitamin K requires the help of a few other nutrients and a healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease. Just adding vitamin K supplements to a junk food diet won’t make much difference in protecting your health. Instead, make sure you are capitalizing on your health by ensuring that you exercise regularly, keep stress levels low, go outdoors, and by reducing overall inflammation in the body.
Vitamin K is an essential nutrient that has long been ignored. Without this vital nutrient, bones are weaker, your blood vessels are weaker, your heart is weaker, and you may even have an increased risk for developing mental problems. With all the adverse health effects tied to a lack of vitamin K, it is extremely important to ensure you get enough of this nutrient in your diet. Find all the vitamin K you need in green leafy vegetables, fermented foods, and pasture-raised animal products.
To benefit your bones even more, add an additional vitamin K supplement. By adding this one simple nutrient to your diet, you significantly reduce your risk of dangerous health problems further on. And many foods with vitamin K even taste delicious!
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