In response to my article on beet nutrition (How to Select, Prep and Cook Beets Plus Nutrition Facts), one reader wrote me to ask this:
“I am on Coumadin (a blood thinner) and my doctor told me to stay away from as much vitamin K as possible. Is the vitamin K in the green leafy part or in the beet itself?”
This is a terrific question, and so necessary for individuals taking blood thinners to be clear about before digging in and reaping those beet-i-ful benefits I shared with you. Since that note, I did revisit that post on beets and updated it to share this information:
Beet root is considered low in vitamin K. The leafy beet greens; however, are high in vitamin K (as many dark leafy greens are). For this reason, individuals taking anticoagulant medications (also referred to as blood thinners) should avoid beet greens.
Now, let’s dig in and learn more about vitamin K and blood thinners.
This is information everyone can use, even those of us not taking blood thinning medication. Let’s take a look at:
- Vitamin K’s primary functions in the body.
- The reason individuals on anticoagulant medications should avoid vitamin K.
- Foods high in vitamin K.
- Signs of vitamin K deficiency.
- Daily recommended intake of vitamin K.
- How vitamin K-rich foods can benefit individuals with CD who are not on anticoagulants.
Vitamin K – For Blood and Bones
Vitamin K is found in:
- Certain foods
- In the body’s gastrointestinal tract
Vitamin K is actually not a single substance, but a group of chemical compounds called naphthoquinones. Under the naphthoquinone “umbrella”, there are two basic types of vitamin K:
1. Phylloquinones, made by plants.
2. Menaquinones, made by bacteria (in the digestive tract).
According to scientific research, we receive approximately 90% of our vitamin K from plants, mostly from green leafy vegetables. Vitamin K is involved in several body processes, but plays a critical role in:
- Keeping our blood chemistry and clotting ability at precise levels and
- Protecting our bones from fracture
Vitamin K and Blood Thinners
The liver uses vitamin K to make essential blood-clotting proteins in our body. This is vital for successful wound healing.
Anticoagulant medications, also referred to as “blood thinners”, are prescribed to reduce clotting of blood in the body. This is necessary in some individuals with certain health conditions such as stroke, heart attack and pulmonary embolism, which lead to higher risk of potentially lethal blood clots.
These anticoagulant medicines (like Warfarin, which may also be marketed as Coumadin or Jantoven) work by blocking the action of vitamin K in the body, hence preventing clots.
Vitamin K can interfere with and even inhibit the anti-clotting effects of anticoagulants, which is why individuals taking anticoagulant medications are advised to avoid vitamin K-rich foods, such as…
Foods High in Vitamin K
Excellent sources of vitamin K include:
- Green beans
- Sea vegetables
- Swiss chard
- Cruciferous vegetables like Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower
- Greens like Kale, Mustard, Turnip Greens, Spinach, Collards, Romaine Lettuce
- Herbs like Thyme, Sage, Parsley, Oregano
Keep in mind, if you take a medication with blood thinning properties and your doctor has advised you to limit or eliminate vitamin K rich foods from your diet, this list covers some of the foods to avoid. Be sure to ask your health care provider for a complete list and for detailed information about your diet as it pertains to your medication.
If you do not take a blood thinner, vitamin K is important to many bodily functions, so be sure to add those vitamin K rich foods to your meals.
To give you an idea of how much vitamin K healthy adults not on anticoagulant medications need each day, check out…
Daily Recommended Intake of Vitamin K for Adults NOT Taking Blood Thinners
According to the Mayo Clinic, it is rare to suffer vitamin K deficiency, as most individuals receive adequate vitamin K through a normal diet, especially since very little vitamin K leaches out of foods during cooking or heating.
The current recommended daily intake of vitamin K in healthy adults is 60 micrograms (mcg) for females and 80 mcg for males.
To give you an idea of the vitamin K content of some common foods, check out this list:
Kale, 1 cup chopped raw = 547 mcg
Brussels sprouts, 1 cup = 156 mcg
Broccoli, 1 cup = 220 mcg
Cabbage, 1 cup chopped = 68 mcg
Chile powder, curry powder or paprika, 1 Tablespoon = about 9 mcg
As stated earlier, vitamin K deficiency is uncommon; however, if you have any of the following symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor about possible vitamin K deficiency.
Signs of Vitamin K Deficiency
Problematic blood clotting or bleeding are the primary symptoms of vitamin K deficiency. That can be indicated by symptoms such as:
- Bruising easily
- Bleeding gums
- Nose bleeds
- Prolonged clotting times
- Bleeding in the digestive tract
- Blood in the urine
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
Bone problems can also develop as a result of inadequate vitamin K levels in the body. These symptoms include:
- Bone loss (called osteopenia)
- Decrease in bone mineral density (osteoporosis)
- Bone fractures like those experienced in advanced aging (especially of the hips)
Another vitamin K deficiency-related symptoms is an excess of calcium being deposited in the soft tissues of the body, called calcification. Calcification can lead to hardening of the arteries or heart valve malfunction.
Vitamin K deficiency is sometimes seen in individuals with celiac disease, prior to diagnosis and going on a gluten free diet.
Vitamin K and Celiac Disease
Like most health and nutrition topics, our discussion of vitamin K relates to celiac disease. That’s because in CD, as you know, vitamin and nutrient deficiency is common.
The damage to the small intestine experienced by those with CD prevents adequate nutrient absorption. In fact, many individuals with CD seek medical attention for a nutrient deficiency related health issue (like anemia or osteoporosis), which then leads to testing and diagnosis of CD.
Nutritional deficiencies are such a serious issue for individuals with CD, I’m devoting my entire “A Side of Science” article to this topic in my March issue of “Food Solutions”. Don’t miss next month’s issue for this vital information for anyone with CD or another health issue that compromises digestive health.
I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite vitamin K rich dishes…