Potassium, Vitamin K & Clotting
Potassium, a mineral and an electrolyte that conducts electrical impulses in your body, differs considerably from vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin important for blood clotting. Both play vital roles in your body, but they have no direct relationship to one another and are not, in any way, the same entity.
Source of Confusion
People often get confused about the relationship between vitamin K and potassium. The confusion most likely arises because potassium is designated as K on the periodic element table, and medical personnel often refer to potassium as “K,” as in “His K level is low,” which a non-medical person might assume refers to his vitamin K levels, rather than his potassium levels. To increase confusion, medical personnel generally refer to abnormal potassium levels as hypokalemia, low levels, or hyperkalemia, high levels, a term that sounds nothing like potassium. Intravenous fluid bags containing potassium are labeled KCL.
Vitamin K Function
Vitamin K plays a significant role in blood clotting by activating enzymes essential for the coagulation cascade, which produces clots that stop excessive bleeding. Vitamin K comes from two sources: from the food you eat, called K1, and from production by the intestinal bacteria, called K2. Vitamin K can reverse excess bleeding in people who have taken too much warfarin, a blood thinner. Infants are often given vitamin K injections after delivery, because their vitamin K levels may be low until their gut becomes colonized with bacteria that synthesize vitamin K.
Potassium levels in the blood remain within narrow levels when your body functions normally. Potassium helps maintain your muscles’ ability to contract, including your heart. Low levels of potassium can cause irregular heartbeat, weakness and stomach problems. High levels of potassium can cause similar symptoms. High doses of heparin, a blood thinner that decreases your blood's ability to clot, can cause hyperkalemia, or high potassium levels.
Diet and Clotting
Foods high in vitamin K, not potassium, can interfere with the action of blood thinners such as warfarin. People who take blood thinners should consume between 90 and 120 daily micrograms of vitamin K in foods, keeping the amount stable from day to day and avoiding large fluctuations in intake that could affect their medication dose. To increase your vitamin K intake, have a cup of raw kale, which contains 547 micrograms, Swiss chard, with 299 micrograms, cooked broccoli, which contains 220 micrograms. leaf lettuce, with 62 micrograms and raw spinach, containing 145 micrograms.
- potassium medicine image by Maria Brzostowska from Fotolia.com