Vitamin K: What is it, what is it found in, what causes its deficiency and what does it do?
Vitamins, which are essential micronutrients, play a role in energy metabolism, immune functions, blood clotting and many other body functions.
What is Vitamin K and what are its types?
Vitamin K is among the fat-soluble vitamins and is especially important for the blood clotting function. Many proteins involved in the coagulation process can only be produced in the presence of vitamin K. Therefore, as a result of the deficiency of this vitamin, people may become prone to bleeding. Apart from the clotting function, vitamin K is also important for heart health and skeletal system health.
There are two basic biological forms of vitamin K, briefly called K1 and K2. Vitamin K1, also called phylloquinone, is the type of this vitamin produced in plants. Vitamin K1, which plays a role in the photosynthesis process carried out by plants to produce nutrients and oxygen, is found at very high levels in green leafy vegetables, especially spinach. Vitamin K1 can also remain active in the bodies of animals that eat these plants and plays a role in the blood clotting pathways of these creatures. Vitamin K1 accounts for approximately 75-90% of the vitamin K consumed by humans.
Vitamin K2, unlike vitamin K1, is the vitamin found in fermented products and foods of animal origin. This vitamin can also be synthesized by beneficial bacteria living in the human digestive tract. Vitamin K2 has subtypes called menaquinones, which are biochemically distinguished from each other according to the length of the side chains they contain. The main source of vitamin K2 for humans is the bacteria found in the intestines.
Apart from vitamins K1 and K2, there is also a synthetically produced form of vitamin K. Since this vitamin, called K3 (menadione), can have a toxic (poisonous) effect on animals, vitamin K deficiency has now been removed from the treatment plan.
What are the Symptoms of Vitamin K Deficiency?
Vitamin K is a vitamin that basically plays a role in the blood clotting process. In case of vitamin K deficiency, the production of proteins involved in clotting may be disrupted and therefore people may be prone to excessive bleeding.
Vitamin K deficiency is a more common condition, especially in newborn babies. Vitamin K deficiency is a rare condition in adults because it is found in many foods and can also be produced by bacteria in the digestive tract. At the same time, since it is fat-soluble, this vitamin can be stored in the body, and therefore, in cases where dietary intake decreases, this reserve vitamin K can be used to prevent deficiency. Despite all these features, vitamin K deficiency may occur in individuals in the presence of some health problems or after the use of various medications.
The main symptom of vitamin K deficiency is excessive bleeding in people. This bleeding is not only in areas of injury but can occur at any point in the body. There are various signs and symptoms that indicate an increased susceptibility to bleeding:
- Easy bruising
- Small blood clots under the nails
- Detection of bleeding in the mucosal membranes within the body
- The stool acquires a dark color appearance due to the blood in it.
The symptoms that may occur if vitamin K deficiency occurs in newborn children can be summarized as follows:
- Bleeding at the point where the umbilical cord is cut
- Detection of bleeding under the skin or along the digestive tract
- Bleeding in the penis in babies who are circumcised after birth
Apart from these symptoms, caution should be exercised as intracranial bleeding, a life-threatening condition, may also occur as a result of vitamin K deficiency in the newborn period.
What Causes Vitamin K Deficiency?
Conditions that may increase susceptibility to vitamin K deficiency in adults are as follows:
- Use of drugs called blood thinners or anticoagulants that act by blocking vitamin K
- Long-term use of antibiotic drugs that will prevent vitamin K synthesis and absorption in the intestines
- Diet low in foods containing vitamin K
- Taking excessively high doses of vitamin A or E
Apart from these situations, vitamin K deficiency may also occur in the presence of various health problems:
- celiac disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Disorders affecting the digestive system or bile ducts
- Having a part of the intestine removed for various reasons
Situations that may play a role in the development of susceptibility to vitamin K deficiency in newborn children can be summarized as follows:
- Breast milk is low in vitamin K
- Incomplete transfer of vitamin K to the baby through the placenta while in the womb
- Babies’ livers are not yet developed enough to use vitamin K effectively
- In the first few days of babies’ lives, the production of vitamin K2 has not yet started in their intestines
How is Vitamin K Deficiency Treated?
The basic treatment approach for individuals with vitamin K deficiency is to compensate for this deficiency by giving external vitamin supplements. The generally applied method is to prescribe oral K1 (phytonadione) drugs. Vitamin K treatment can also be administered by injection in individuals who have problems absorbing this vitamin from the digestive system. The dose of vitamin K that can be used in treatment for adults varies between 1-25 milligrams. Some individuals using anticoagulant medications may also need vitamin K. In order to prevent the interaction between the drugs used in these people and vitamin K, it is preferred to give vitamin supplements in lower doses.
In our country, in order to prevent vitamin K deficiency, which can have a dangerous course during the neonatal period, prophylactic 1 milligram vitamin K injection is given following birth.
The daily recommended vitamin K1 consumption level for adults is 120 micrograms per day for men and 90 milligrams per day for women. This amount can be reached by adding just one glass of spinach to the salad or by consuming half a glass of vegetables such as brussels sprouts and broccoli with dinner. 100 grams of raw spinach contains approximately 483 micrograms of vitamin K. This value alone can provide up to 4 times the daily recommended level of vitamin K. Vitamin K values per 100 grams for vegetables and foods of animal origin other than spinach containing vitamin K are as follows:
- Broccoli: 141 micrograms of vitamin K
- Brussels sprouts: 140 micrograms of vitamin K
- Liver meat: 106 micrograms vitamin K
- Chicken meat: 60 micrograms of vitamin K
Vitamin K deficiency is a rare condition due to the presence of this vitamin in many foods. However, it is recommended to be aware as there is a risk of excessive bleeding if deficiency develops for various reasons.