Vitamin K: Behind its name and functions

Vitamin K was discovered in the 1930s. At the time, it was so groundbreaking that the researchers responsible won the Nobel Prize. They gave the vitamin group the name ‘K’ for one aspect of this research; read on to find out more about that and why this vitamin is so crucial in our daily lives.

The discovery of vitamin K

It was 1935 when a fat-soluble family of vitamins was pinpointed, an essential group that, when lacking in a diet, lead to blood-clotting disorders.

For their wayfinding work in the area, Danish researcher Carl Peter Henrik Dam and his co-author, American Edward Adelbert Doisy, received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1943.Since these vitamins were initially discovered as part of a group and one of their first functions blood clotting – Koagulation in their German medical journal publication—the substances received the name vitamin K

Today these vitamins and their significance for our physical well being have been thoroughly studied. It’s been established that the two variants in the vitamin K group most important for human metabolism are vitamins K1 and K2.

Vitamin K 1 (Phyllochinon)

Vitamin K1 activates so-called clotting factors in the liver, thereby enabling functional blood-clotting in the first place. A vitamin K deficiency leads inevitably to the failure of clotting and thus to bleeding.

For humans, vitamin K1 is absorbed through plants in their diet. Since it is available in most green plants containing chlorophyll—such as your typical heavy-hitters, lettuce and leafy greens, kale, and broccoli but also parsley, chives, avocado, good quality vegetable oils, onions, and garlic, to name just a few—a deficiency of vitamin K is quite rare.

One interesting fact: It’s actually impossible to get too much vitamin K. Even extremely high doses do not lead to any changes in blood clotting in healthy people (who are not taking a vitamin-K antagonist).

Vitamin K’s antagonist: Coumarin

Medications that interfere with vitamin K utilization can inhibit blood clotting. This must be strictly monitored, especially in the case of an increased risk of thrombosis or embolism.

This type of medication is called an anticoagulant or “vitamin K antagonist” or simply antivitamins. The most important group of these are the so-called coumarins.

The takeaway

If you’re healthy and regularly eat green vegetables, garlic, onions, and good quality plant oil, you’re already covering your vitamin K needs.

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