Contrary to popular belief, Vitamin K is a general name of a family of substances that are chemically related, instead of one single substance. This vitamin family has undertaken a drastic change when it comes to our scientific understanding of its function and chemistry. Scientist used to refer the member of the vitamin K family as vitamins K1, K2 and K3. Now, these terms have been replaced with terminologies that better describe the compounds of vitamin K family.
All substances of vitamin K fall into the category of compounds called naphthoquinones, which has two basic sub-categories. Vitamin K made by plants is called phylloquinones while the same vitamin substance made by bacteria is called menaquinones. Majority of our supply of vitamin K comes from phylloquinones. Green leafy vegetables are most abundant with vitamin K, such as spinach, kale, Brussels sprout and broccoli, just to name a few. Although there are many types of bacteria that make vitamin K in our digestive tract, the contribution is believed to be just 10%, or even less.
Vitamin K is most popularly known for its role in optimal blood clotting. In fact, the letter “K” comes from the German word koagulation. Is blood clotting a critical process for human? Absolutely. Whenever we get an injury, our body needs healthy blood clotting ability to prevent excessive bleeding and close the wound. However, too much blood clotting ability is not healthy because it risks producing internal clots even when we are not wounded, which might end up blocking a healthy blood vessel. Vitamin K is one of the essential nutrients that keep our blood clotting ability at the correct degree.
Vitamin K is right in the middle of the entire blood clotting process. Clotting factors need to stick on to a nearby tissue to successfully close an injury. A chemical event called carboxylation provides them with the necessary “stickiness”. A component for this carboxylation process is glumatic acid, an amino acid in the clotting factors. When the drug warfarin (Coumadin), an anticoagulant, is introduced in the body it interrupts the blood clotting process by blocking one the two enzymes that keep the carboxylation procedure. As a result, it is impossible to recycle the vitamin K anymore, which leads to clotting factors unassisted in achieving their correct stickiness. People with the tendency to form blood clots in excess, anticoagulant drugs like Coumadin can save their lives. Warfarin should not be used together with vitamin K because they cancel each other’s benefits.
Aside from warfarin, there are other supplements that should not be taken alongside with vitamin K. Coenzyme Q-10 is a chemical substance that has similar functions as vitamin K. Hence, taking the two supplements together can lead to blood clotting ability greater than the normal proper level. Tiratricol, a dietary supplement prescribed for thyroid problems, also interferes with vitamin K’s ability to promote healthy blood clotting, hence must be avoided. Taking more than 800 units of vitamin E every day contradicts the effect of vitamin K in optimal blood clotting. Vitamin E is also not advisable for people with vitamin K deficiency and those on warfarin therapy because it heightens the risk of bleeding.
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