In the race to prevent and treat the various forms of cancer, researchers have left no stone unturned: diet, exercise, environmental causes, and genetic factors have all been determined to play a role in the proliferation of the disease.
While researchers toil away in laboratories, we await eagerly for the smallest indication that something-anything– will reduce our chances of being stricken with any number of cancers. In recent years, Vitamin K was suggestive of having anti-cancer properties that may reduce the incidence of certain cancers and prevent the recurrence of liver cancer. However, studies involving Vitamin K have been inconclusive up to this point. A number of studies suggested that diets plentiful in Vitamin K may reduce the overall risk of cancer and disease mortality, while others found little link between the two. As such, no formal body (such as the American Cancer Society or American Medical Association) has formally recognized or promoted Vitamin K as an anti-cancer treatment.
The current stance of the American Cancer Society is that available evidence does not support the use of Vitamin K supplements as a form of cancer prevention or treatment. The society does, however, acknowledge that current research is still undergoing to ascertain whether the use of Vitamin K in conjunction with other treatments or compounds is beneficial in any form of the disease.
So why should I still include Vitamin K rich foods in my diet?
Regardless of whether Vitamin K proves to have any effect in cancer prevention, Vitamin K does have a number of significant health perks that warrant its inclusion in our diets. Aside from being necessary for clotting function, Vitamin K plays a role in bone integrity. Vitamin K helps our bodies utilize the calcium needed for bone growth, strength, and repair. This effect is particularly poignant for postmenopausal women and the elderly, whom are more prone to osteoporosis, osteopenia, and fracture.
Additionally, many foods that are high in Vitamin K are high in fiber, and chock-full of other vitamins and minerals, many of which are pivotal players in immune function, metabolism, digestion, and other cellular processes. Although Vitamin K itself has not proven to provide anti-cancer properties, foods rich in Vitamin K, such as broccoli, are high in other micronutrients, such as Vitamin C and Vitamin A, both of which have antioxidant properties that have exhibited a clear antioxidant capacity- in other words, when you eat a diet rich in Vitamin K, you also consume a large number of other nutrients that support total health and reduce your risk of various diseases, cancer included.
Luckily, Vitamin K is plentiful in a large number of healthy foods, making a deficiency quite rare. Increasing the amount of Vitamin K-rich foods in our diets has the potential to benefit our overall health and nutritional status, save for a few individuals, for whom Vitamin K is unsafe (see Do I need a supplement? Is Vitamin K safe for me? below). Vitamin K is plentiful in green foods: a single cup of Kale provides over 600% of our daily intake! Other foods rich in Vitamin K include swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, parsley, and cabbage, as well as cheese, eggs, and meat.
Do I need a supplement? Is Vitamin K safe for me?
Although Vitamin K is a necessary and powerful component of a healthy diet, Vitamin K does pose some health risks for certain individuals. Because of Vitamin Ks role in blood clotting, individuals with clotting disorders, individuals taking warfarin or coumadin, or any individual with a blood disorder or other condition should always talk to their Doctor about the amount of Vitamin K that is safe for their consumption; often, these individuals have very specific needs and are limited to reducing or monitoring the amount of Vitamin K in their diets.
A Vitamin K deficiency is quite rare, as the majority of us already consume enough through our typical diets. However, certain conditions, such as Crohns or Celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, liver disease, do make afflicted individuals more susceptible to a Vitamin K deficiency. As always, never self-diagnose yourself with a deficiency or any other health condition. Check with your doctor to, who can assess the quality of your diet and prescribe any necessary alterations.
How likely is it that further studies will support Vitamin K as a preventative method?
Its hard to say- without a crystal ball, its impossible to determine whether researchers will unveil a definitive, scientifically grand link between Vitamin K and the debilitating disease. The possibility is not unreal, as it is currently being studied. In the meantime, its best to make sure youre following the necessary protocol for sound diet and exercise, both of which have been proven to reduce cancer risk and improve overall health and vitality. If you decide to add more kale and spinach to your diet? Well, it certainly couldnt hurt.