4 Silent Signs of a Vitamin K Deficiency

Updated: May 21, 2020

Up to 31 percent of adults may be insufficient in vitamin K, and that could affect your bones, joints, and heart.

What is a vitamin K deficiency?

When it comes to nutrients, vitamin K isn’t one we hear a lot about, but it’s an important one. There are two primary types of vitamin K: vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. “Vitamin K1 plays an important role in blood clotting, while K2 is more important for bone health, regulation of cell growth, and prevention of calcification of the arteries—a contributing factor to heart disease,” says Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT, a dietitian in Los Angeles.

Up to 31 percent of the general adult population may be insufficient in vitamin K, according to a study in Nutrients. To avoid a vitamin K deficiency, eat foods high in vitamin K1, including leafy green veggies, broccoli, edamame, pumpkin, and pomegranate juice. Also include foods high in vitamin K2, including dark-meat chicken, goose liver, beef liver, butter, and cheese (from grass-fed cows), egg yolks, and pork if you know if the animals’ feed had a synthetic form of vitamin K added to it. Vitamin K also can be found in certain fermented foods like hard aged cheeses and natto, a Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. Get your fill of vitamin K by whipping up a vanilla smoothie, a healthy broccoli slaw salad, or liver and onions.

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it’s most easily absorbed in a meal that contains fat. Don’t overlook the 10 vitamins that should always be taken with food. Women ages 19 and older need 90 micrograms of vitamin K per day, and men ages 19 and older require 120 micrograms daily.

Most people get enough vitamin K daily, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But it is possible to become deficient in vitamin K, depending on what you’re eating. Here are the top nine signs of vitamin K deficiency.

Vitamin K deficiency symptoms

These signs can mean many things, but put a few together and you may want to talk to your doctor about a potential vitamin K shortfall.

Your cuts aren’t clotting—or you’re bleeding excessively

When your wounds don’t clot quickly, you can lose a dangerous amount of blood—and your risk of death from injuries increases, according to a report by the University of Florida. “Warning signs may include heavy menstrual periods, nose bleeds, blood in the urine or stool, and bleeding gums,” says Julson. Vitamin K acts in sync with an enzyme required for the synthesis of prothrombin, a protein involved in blood clotting, explains Cheryl Buckley, MBA, MS, RDN, a dietitian in Hoboken, New Jersey. Learn the silent signs you aren’t getting enough of these other vitamins, either.

You’re losing bone strength

Vitamin K can play a role in bone health—and some research connects taking in a greater amount of vitamin K with a higher bone mineral density and a lower risk of lower hip fracture, per the NIH. “Insufficiency occurs when the body doesn’t have enough vitamin K to optimally support functions like bone and heart health,” says Julson. Check out vitamin mistakes you might not realize you’re making.

Flying foods rich in vitamin k. Green vegetables. Healthy eating

You’re having heart issues

“When vitamin K levels are low, calcium may be deposited in soft tissues like the arteries, instead of the bones,” says Julson. This may not only contribute to weak bones; vascular calcification is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. People with chronic kidney disease have a significantly higher risk of vascular calcification. Take a look at the vitamins and supplements that doctors actually take every day.

You have arthritis symptoms

When vitamin K levels drop too low and you have a vitamin K deficiency, your bone and cartilage may not get all the minerals they need. This can lead to a higher risk of osteoarthritis—although research in this area is still preliminary, according to a review study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.

Vitamin K deficiency causes

Medications and medical disorders can keep your body from absorbing the vitamin K you need. Stay alert to symptoms if one of the following applies to you.

You have celiac disease or another GI disorder

People who have certain gastrointestinal disorders or malabsorption syndromes may have problems properly absorbing vitamin K. These conditions include cystic fibrosis, ulcerative colitis, chronic pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, short bowel syndrome, and obstruction of the bowel duct. If you’ve had bariatric surgery, you also have a higher risk of vitamin K deficiency. Talk with your doctor about if you’re at risk for vitamin K deficiency and if you should take a vitamin K supplement.

You’re taking antibiotics

On a current dose of antibiotics? Cephalosporin antibiotics such as Cefobid may destroy the bacteria in the gut that produces vitamin K. If you’re on these antibiotics for more than a few weeks, you may want to consider taking a supplement. These are the supplement and medication combos you should never mix.

You’re on a bile acid sequestrant

Medicines such as cholestyramine and colestipol help lower cholesterol levels by preventing the re-absorption of bile acids. During this process, the meds can also lower how well you absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin K. If you’re taking a bile acid sequestrant, speak with your doctor about whether you need to supplement to avoid a vitamin K deficiency.

Newborn’s can be deficient in vitamin K at birth

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that every newborn receive a single dose of 0.5 to 1 milligram of vitamin K1 at birth. This is because vitamin K is poorly transported across the placenta—and vitamin K deficiency within the first few weeks of life can cause a condition called vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKBD). “Newborns are at a greater risk of VKBD because vitamin K stores are very low at birth, concentrations of vitamin K are low in human milk, and newborn’s GI tract hasn’t yet been colonized with vitamin K-producing gut bacteria,” says Julson. When VKDB appears as bleeding within the skull, this can be life-threatening.

Vitamin K deficiency tests

Your vitamin K levels can be tested via a blood test, notes Julson. “Blood tests can evaluate the percentage of vitamin-K dependent proteins that are under-activated,” she says. “A higher percentage is a potential sign that vitamin K status is low, since vitamin K is needed to carboxylate, or activate, these proteins.”

Read on to discover the 10 ways your body is trying to tell you you’re low on key vitamins.

Amy Gorin is a freelance writer, registered dietitian, and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.