What to Know About Vitamin K Deficiency

Kale, a good source of vitamin K
Green Leafy Vegetables Prevent Vitamin K Deficiency

A vitamin K deficiency poses a serious health risk and can occur anytime in a person's life. This nutrient is essential for proper body function. A deficiency can cause a number of grave health consequences.

Causes of a Vitamin K Deficiency

Fortunately, deficiencies of this essential vitamin are rare. Sometimes dietary intake may simply be inadequate, but deficiencies are most often the result of one of several medical conditions that may reduce the absorption or synthesis of the vitamin. For example, liver diseases such as cirrhosis can lead to deficiencies. Biliary diseases, such as common duct obstruction can impair your absorption rate by limiting the availability of bile salts.

Another cause is malabsorption of nutrients. For vitamin K to be synthesized in the intestines, the villi must be healthy. A common symptom of celiac disease patients is damage to the villi caused by an abnormal autoimmune response. The villi become unable to function properly, causing malnutrition.

Some medications may interfere with vitamin K absorption. Anticoagulants or blood thinners may block the effects of vitamin K, setting up the scenario for a vitamin deficiency. Cefamandole, used to treat pneumonia or urinary tract infections, may also impair vitamin K absorption. If you are taking these medications, you should discuss the possibility of deficiency with your doctor.

How the deficiency manifests itself depends greatly upon the age in which it occurs. Infants may have vitamin deficiencies due to a low transmission rate from the placenta. If the mother takes anti-seizure drugs, the unborn child may also be at risk. When the child is born, hemorrhagic disease may occur within a few days of birth.

Sometimes, however, dietary intake may simply be inadequate.

Symptoms of a Deficiency

The classic symptom of this disease is abnormal bleeding. An infant may bleed from in the belly button area, any place where an injection was given, or from his penis if the child was circumcised. More serious complications include intracranial hemorrhaging. Left untreated, a deficiency can be fatal.

In adults, symptoms of deficiency are similar, and most often involve unusual or excessive bleeding. You may find that cuts are slow to clot. You may also bruise more easily. Visible bruises indicate bleeding under the skin.

Other symptoms include excessive menstrual bleeding, nose bleeds, and gum bleeding. Hemorrhaging may occur in the gastrointestinal system or within the ovaries.

Treatment of Deficiencies

Early detection and treatment are necessary to avoid the complications associated with a vitamin K deficiency. Your doctor may perform blood clotting tests to determine your clotting time. Injections of vitamin K can correct the condition. However, in severe cases, a blood transfusion may be necessary.

Prevention of Deficiencies

Since most of the vitamin K in your body comes from dietary sources, it is important to consume adequate amounts of this nutrient. Dietary sources include:

  • Spinach
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Liver
  • Soybeans
  • Broccoli
  • Swiss chard
  • Parsley
  • Kale
  • Watercress

The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine recommends adult women receive at least 90 mcg per day. Adult men should receive 120 mcg per day.

Many times, you can avoid vitamin deficiencies by eating a balanced diet. Because of its vital role in blood clotting, vitamin K ranks high among the 13 essential vitamins. When your mother told you to eat your vegetables, she was helping you prevent the serious complications of inadequate nutritional intake.

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What to Know About Vitamin K Deficiency