According to a recent meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adequate vitamin K intake can slash your risk of early death.
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, chard, mustard greens, and romaine are all high in vitamin K. Adult women should aim to get 90 micrograms (mcg) per day, and adult men should aim to get 120 mcg per day.
Although it’s not a fountain of youth, vitamin K may be a contender. New research suggests that it provides enough protective health benefits to help you live longer, and perhaps feel better along the way.
A meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at research from three major studies, representing over 4,000 participants aged 54 to 76, and found that those with the lowest vitamin K levels had a 19 percent higher risk of death compared to those with adequate intake of the vitamin.
That’s likely because vitamin K is crucial for maintaining healthy blood vessels, according to lead study author Kyla Shea, Ph.D., a scientist on the Vitamin K Team at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.
“There is an important protein in vascular tissue that prevents calcium from building up in artery walls, and it requires vitamin K to function,” she told Runner’s World. “Without vitamin K, this protein is less functional, which may increase susceptibility to calcium accumulation in arterial walls.”
When that buildup happens in coronary arteries, it’s associated with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, she added. Calcium buildup in other arteries throughout the body is also linked to early mortality.
Although it wasn’t covered in this study, vitamin K has also been associated with better bone health—one more reason cyclists should be considering adding K-rich foods into their diets. A research review published in Nutrition reported that Vitamin K, which improves calcium balance and bone mineralization in every person, can reduce fracture rates and increase bone mineral density for older people with osteoporosis. Although some studies used high doses to get these results, the researchers added this isn’t always the case, and even low doses can benefit bone health, especially when paired with vitamin D.
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Although there are supplements that let you boost your vitamin K intake, and many multivitamins include K, dietitians tend to steer people toward getting vitamins through foods first. The main dietary source of this vitamin are green, leafy vegetables, Shea said—including options such as kale, chard, mustard greens, spinach, and romaine, But you can also load up through cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adult women get 90 mcg of the vitamin per day and adult men get 120 mcg per day.
One of the reasons vitamin K may be so protective is that these vegetables offer such a wide range of benefits—from fiber to other vitamins to antioxidants. Yet, despite being such nutritional powerhouses, they’re not consumed enough in the U.S., Shea said.
“Unfortunately, over 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women in this country over age 70 do not meet the dietary recommendations for vitamin K, which suggests they are not consuming enough green vegetables,” she said. “That may cause them to be more susceptible to negative health outcomes that vitamin K has a role in.”
The takeaway is that no matter what your age, give vegetables—especially the dark green options—more real estate on your plate. You’ll be doing your bones, heart, and every other system, a green-fueled favor that may even help you live longer.
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