After decades of lavishing attention on vitamins A, B, C, D and E, scientists are venturing deeper into the alphabet. Smack in the middle, they’ve found a widely overlooked nutrient that can deliver powerful benefits to menopause age women: vitamin K. New evidence shows it can ease hormonal woes, shore up bones, fade bulging veins and may even reduce cancer risk.
But just when women need vitamin K the most, age related factors can leave the body lacking. “We’re finding that in the years surrounding menopause, women’s bodies become less efficient at absorbing and utilizing vitamin K, likely due to changes in estrogen levels,” says Lawrence Cohen, M.D., founder and medical director of The Center for Complementary Medicine in San Antonio. The good news: With these strategies, you’ll soon be feeling A-OK.
Heavy periods? Go for leafy greens.
Vitamin K controls the liver’s production of clotting compounds that put the brakes on excessive bleeding. Without ample K, periods can become heavy and prolonged, report scientists at New York University. Fortunately, correcting a vitamin K deficiency can normalize flow—plus it may ease other premenstrual woes: In one study, women who took K had less cramping, used fewer OTC pain meds and spent less time in bed. And in a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who regularly ate greens rich in K were 40 percent less likely to suffer PMS symptoms such as mood swings. To get relief, aim to eat one daily serving of greens like raw or cooked kale, spinach or romaine lettuce.
Bone worries? Try a supplement.
For years scientists were puzzled by the link between K and bones. Women with healthy levels of K were less likely to suffer fractures—but the nutrient alone had little effect on bone density. Maybe it was just a fluke, they thought. It’s not. Last year scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, discovered the missing link: osteocalcin, a protein that holds bone minerals together— and relies on vitamin K to do so. When a bone suffers a blow, osteocalcin stretches to keep it from cracking. So vitamin K doesn’t make bones denser; it makes bones stronger.
Since the ideal is to increase bone strength and density, experts advise taking a supplement that combines 500 mg of calcium and 40 mcg of vitamin K twice a day. (Try Viactiv Calcium Plus D and K, $21 for 180 chews, at Amazon.com). Note: If otherwise directed by a doctor, don’t take a K supplement if you’re on a blood-thinning meds like warfarin. Finding natural sources of vitamin K in your diet is another great way to get this mineral in.
Varicose veins? Rub on a cream.
When French scientists compared samples of varicose tissue with healthy veins, they found healthy veins were rich in active MGP, a structural protein that helps blood vessels hold their shape against the constant force of fluid. But in varicose veins, MGP was dormant. And when the scientists applied vitamin K to the varicose samples, MGP switched on. That’s no surprise to Shain Cuber, M.D., a cosmetic surgeon in New York City. “I often suggest vitamin K cream to my patients who have spider or varicose veins,” he says. “Blood vessels absorb the nutrient directly, via fat tissue in skin.”
To get the benefits, choose a cream with phytonadione (the chemical name for vitamin K) listed as a top ingredient. (Try Jason Lightening Vitamin K Creme Plus; $13 for 2 oz., at Amazon.com.) Note that it can take eight weeks of daily use to see a difference, with best results seen in small veins.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.