Vitamin K is considered the "blood clotting vitamin." The name is derived from the German "koagulation" which translates very plainly into the English word "coagulation." A deficiency of this vitamin can lead to serious health problems, including heart attack and osteoporosis.
The most important function of vitamin K is its ability to attract and bind calcium to the proteins in the body. The protein in our bones is called osteocalcin, and without the help of this vitamin, calcium will not stick to this protein. This, in turn, lowers bone density and strength. Studies have shown that diets low in vitamin K can be linked to higher rates of hip and bone fractures in the elderly as well as osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
Vitamin K also plays a vital role in vascular health. It is the key coagulant in our bodies, and in turn, keeps us from hemorrhaging. Its presence, however, can also decrease calcification in the arteries by properly absorbing the hardened calcium and deteriorating the risk of heart attack caused by hardened arteries.
Few people think about the need for vitamin K until they begin to see signs of a deficiency. Warning signs may include easy or excessive bruising or bleeding, liver damage or disease, low bone density, arterial calcification, and malabsorption in the digestive track. Another warning sign might also be if a doctor has prescribed such blood thinning drugs as warfarin or coumadin. These drugs act as antagonists to the vitamin so that there may be a need for increased daily intake of the vitamin in order to counteract the effects of the drug.
To increase intake of this vitamin, one should add more green, leafy vegetables into the diet. Some foods that are high in Vitamin K1, the primary dietary form, include spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, Swiss chard, green leaf lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, soybeans, liver, olive, soybean and canola oils, and some meats and cheeses. It can also be found in most multivitamins or other dietary supplements.
Vitamin K deficiency is primarily a problem found in adults, however some infants may suffer from a deficiency because their bodies have not yet matured enough to correctly produce it. This deficiency is easily and safely corrected by a Vitamin K shot shortly after birth.