Nationwide surveys show that nearly 86 percent of Americans – roughly seven out of eight – take vitamin supplements. Most of us have at least a rough idea of the benefits of the “major” vitamins such as B complex, D, and E, and many take extra vitamin C when we feel a cold coming on. And then, of course, there’s vitamin K.
Wait – what? What’s vitamin K, you ask? It turns out that this little-known nutrient is essential to the physical and mental health of seniors. Yet a large percentage of us are not getting enough, and as a result we may be paying a high price. That’s the conclusion from this recent article in Consumer Reports, written by reporter Janet Lee.
Vitamin K May Not Be High on Your Priority List – But It Should Be
“When you think about vitamins that are important for health, there’s one that might not come to mind but should,” Lee writes. As the article reports, new research is showing how vitamin K can affect health in significant ways. “An analysis of data combined from three studies, recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that older adults with low blood levels of vitamin K…had a 19 percent higher risk of dying early from any cause.” According to Consumer Reports, the study followed an ethnically diverse group of nearly 4,000 people ages 54 to 76 for 13 years.
Vitamin K is a highly important nutrient, yet older adults (especially men) are the age group that consume the least amount of vitamin K. Lead study author Kyla Shea of Tufts University told Consumer Reports that low levels of vitamin K are linked to calcification of the arteries. “When that happens in the coronary arteries, it’s called atherosclerosis [stiffening of the arteries], which is a manifestation of cardiovascular disease,” she stated. “It can also happen in arteries throughout the body, and arterial stiffening is linked to mortality.”
Healthy arteries aren’t the only benefit you’re missing with too little vitamin K. “Other research has shown that too little vitamin K is associated with various age-related concerns, such as cognitive function and mobility,” Lee writes. “For example, in one 2019 study…older people with low blood levels of the vitamin were more likely to have difficulty being physically active than those with higher levels.” A similar study from a few years earlier found a high correlation between eating enough vitamin K and performing well on cognitive tests.
What Vitamin K Does, and Where It Comes From
Vitamin K affects many parts of the human body. It’s an important component in the healthy clotting of blood, researchers say. It’s also an essential component in helping the body create the proteins that build healthy bone, cartilage, and blood vessels. As another Tufts researcher told Consumer Reports, “It is emerging that vitamin K has a critical role in keeping tissues you don’t want to calcify from calcifying.” Calcification is linked to a wide range of health problems from hardened arteries to osteoarthritis.
Getting enough vitamin K is surprisingly simple, says the article: all that’s required is some attention to a healthy diet. “There are two main types of vitamin K: K1 is found mostly in dark green vegetables,” says Consumer Reports. “K2 (which comprises several forms) is found in animal products, such as egg yolks, beef, and fermented foods” such as yogurt and kimchi. Both K1 and K2 are of equal value in our bodies, the article states, despite a misconception that K2 is the preferable form.
The Consumer Reports article includes more nutritional details than we have space for here, but the important take-away is that eating one cup per day of many dark green veggies will give the average adult all the vitamin K he or she needs. Kale, broccoli, spinach and asparagus are all good sources as are avocados, kiwi fruit and blueberries. Researchers say adding a bit of healthy fat to vegetables helps the body absorb vitamin K, so a splash of olive oil could be the perfect addition.
One Caution About Vitamin K and Blood Thinners
Doctors interviewed in the Consumer Reports article said that people who take the anticoagulant warfarin (trade name: Coumadin) need to be aware of their intake of vitamin K. That’s because Coumadin “prevents harmful blood clots by blocking the action of vitamin K.” That doesn’t mean you should avoid vitamin K-rich foods – they tend to be healthy and beneficial for the body, often delivering important servings of antioxidants, fiber, folate, and potassium. But it could be wise to avoid sudden dietary changes.
“If you decide to add more vitamin K-containing foods to your diet, be sure to let your doctor know so that he can check your blood and alter your warfarin dose if necessary,” the article advises. However, if you’re on a newer anticoagulant such as apixaban or rivaroxaban (trade names: Eliquis and Xarelto), you needn’t worry: these compounds aren’t affected by vitamin K intake, researchers told Consumer Reports.
Two Important Retirement-Planning Announcements from AgingOptions
At AgingOptions our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. Toward that end, we want to share two important announcements that are designed to facilitate your LifePlanning process even during this period when most of us are required to avoid gathering in groups.
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(originally reported at www.consumerreports.org)