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Could low levels of vitamin K impact lung health?

Broccoli florets on a tray lined with baking paper
Having low levels of vitamin K may negatively affect lung function. Nadine Greeff/Stocksy
  • The lungs are essential to the body’s survival, and many factors can influence their ability to function. 
  • The results of a recent study indicate that people with lower levels of vitamin K may be at a higher risk for diminished lung function and may be more likely to report conditions that impact breathing. 
  • People can increase their vitamin K levels by consuming more foods rich in vitamin K, such as leafy greens and beef liver, and consulting with professionals for appropriate guidance. 

A​ recent study examined how vitamin K levels in the body may influence lung function and saw that low levels may negatively impact respiratory health, increasing the risk of developing lung conditions.

For the study, the researchers looked at levels of a distinct biomarker as an indicator of vitamin K levels.

The participants with lower vitamin K levels were at a higher risk for poorer lung function measurements. They were also at a higher risk for reporting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and wheezing.

The study is published in ERJ open research

H​ow do vitamin K levels impact the lungs?

One of the primary functions of vitamin K Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source  is assisting with proper blood clotting in the body. However, researchers in this study wanted to look more in-depth at how vitamin K influences lung function.

The study was a cross-sectional general population study. I​t included just over 4,000 participants. 

T​o look at vitamin K levels in the body, they used an indirect method.

A specific protein called matrix Gla Protein (MGP) may help stop lung tissue calcification. This protein relies on vitamin K for activation. The inactive form of this protein, dephosphorylated-uncarboxylated MGP (dp-ucMGP), is an indicator of vitamin K levels. Higher levels of it in the body’s plasma indicate a lower level of vitamin K. 

The study found lower vitamin K levels were associated with poorer lung function, based on two lung function measurements: forced vital capacity and forced expiratory volume. Researchers did not find an association between vitamin K levels and airflow obstruction. 

T​hey also found that lower vitamin K levels were associated with an increased risk for self-reported chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and wheezing. 

The research highlights how vitamin K may influence lung function and how low levels may contribute to certain breathing problems. 

Study author Dr. Torkil Jespersen explained some of the highlights of the research to MNT:

“There has been a recent increase in interest in vitamin K beyond its role in coagulation. Few studies have focused [on] vitamin K and lung disease, and most of these focused on smaller patient groups. We wanted to explore the subject in a larger general population since it could have great significance for recommendations on diet and vitamin supplements in both lung patient groups and the broader public.”

“The study found that participants with lower vitamin K status had poorer lung function and more frequently reported having asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD).”
— Dr. Torkil Jespersen

Study limitations and continued research

T​his research did have certain limitations. First, it cannot prove that low vitamin K levels cause certain lung disorders or declines in lung function.

The researchers did not have information on participants’ dietary intake or supplemental intake of vitamin K. There was a certain level of non-responses and low participation that may have influenced the study’s results. 

They had some missing data, such as only having lung function measurements on 3,169 participants. It also only included participants from one country, Denmark, and one area, the western part of Greater Copenhagen, and most participants were Caucasian. Future studies could include more significant diversity. 

The study also looked at self-reporting of specific breathing problems, and self-reporting is not always an accurate representation of someone’s health. 

Rick Miller, a dietitian at King Edward VII’s Hospital, London, the United Kingdom, and co-director of Miller & Everton, a leading men’s health, body composition and performance service, noted that we can only get so much information from a cross-sectional study such as this one.

He explained that “this study is cross-sectional, and so we cannot draw direct causal implications of vitamin K and lung disease, but it highlights a further reason for the general public to focus more on obtaining this and other crucial micronutrients that have wide implications on overall health from their diet.”

Further research could include long-term data collection. Dr. Jespersen explained potential areas for continued research: 

“[This study] shows the need for more extensive studies on whether lung patient groups and the general population may benefit from taking vitamin K supplements.”

“Future studies should be prospective meaning they will follow vitamin K status and lung function in individuals over time. Studies should also focus on the effect of supplements on lung disease. Authors of the article are currently conducting a long-term randomized placebo-controlled study (InterVitaminK) on exactly these questions,” he added.

How to incorporate more vitamin K in one’s diet

This study adds to research on the importance of vitamin K and its role in the body. Miller explained a little more about vitamin K to MNT:

“Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that has three forms: vitamin K1, K2 and K3. Our bodies use vitamin K to form proteins that aid in platelet coagulation (blood clotting) and to support the structure of our bones. However, Vitamin K is involved in many body functions ranging from supporting normal blood pressure, cognitive health and possibly in preventing insulin resistance and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.”

Vitamin K Trusted Source National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements Governmental authority Go to source  is readily available in several foods. Some people may also take vitamin K supplements to ensure they get enough vitamin K in their diet. A few key sources of vitamin K include kale, collards, broccoli, and soybean oil. 

Miller cautioned that people on certain medications like warfarin should talk with their doctor before significantly adjusting their vitamin K intake.

He offered further advice for increasing vitamin K intake to people who are not on anti-coagulant medications:

“Focus on whole food sources of vitamin K first over supplementation, as vitamin K is found in a wide range of foods. The K2 form from animal foods is preferable as it appears to have a more direct effect on regulating calcium levels and a longer time in circulation and so ideally, this is what I emphasize with patients.”

“Great sources [of vitamin K] include beef liver, including pâté, Swiss (semi-hard) cheese, and eggs. If someone doesn’t eat animal-based foods, fermented soybean (natto) contains K2, while asparagus, peas, parsley, lentils, and some fruits, such as grapes, raspberries, and blueberries also contain K1.” 
— Rick Miller, dietitian

This article originally appeared on Medical News Today.

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