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Overview of vitamin K

Sassan Pazirandeh, MD
David L Burns, MD
Section Editors
Timothy O Lipman, MD
Kathleen J Motil, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Alison G Hoppin, MD


Vitamins are a number of chemically unrelated families of organic substances that cannot be synthesized by humans but need to be ingested in the diet in small quantities to prevent disorders of metabolism. They are divided into water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins (table 1).

More than 50 years ago, Henrik Dam of Denmark discovered an "antihemorrhagic factor" that was capable of reversing dietary-induced bleeding disorders in chicks [1]. The name "K" comes from the German/Danish word koagulationsvitamin (clotting vitamin) [2].

In 1930, vitamin K was first isolated by Doisy and his colleagues, as well as by Dam, from alfalfa sprouts [3]. Until the 1980s, when chromatographic techniques were used, the mainstay of vitamin K isolation was through using chick bioassay [2].

This topic review will focus on vitamin K. Overviews of the other fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and water-soluble vitamins are available elsewhere. (See "Overview of vitamin A" and "Overview of vitamin D" and "Overview of vitamin E" and "Overview of dietary trace minerals" and "Overview of water-soluble vitamins" and "Vitamin supplementation in disease prevention".)


Dietary vitamin K1 (phylloquinone or phytonadione) is found in green vegetables like spinach and broccoli (table 2) [4]. Gut micro-flora synthesizes vitamin K2 (menaquinones, including menatetrenone), which provides a portion of the dietary requirement of vitamin K [4]. Vitamin K2 has approximately 60 percent of the activity of vitamin K1, by weight, but bioavailability of both forms varies substantially depending on other intraluminal nutrients [5].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Apr 13, 2016.
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