Chemistry, nutritional sources, tissue distribution and metabolism of vitamin K with special reference to bone health

J Nutr. 1996 Apr;126(4 Suppl):1181S-6S. doi: 10.1093/jn/126.suppl_4.1181S.


Vitamin K occurs in nature as a series of compounds with a common 2-methyl- 1,4 naphthoquinone nucleus and differing isoprenoid side chains at the 3 position. They comprise a single major plant form, phylloquinone with a phytyl side chain and a family of bacterially synthesized menaquinones (MKs) with multiprenyl side chains. The major dietary source to humans is phylloquinone for which the chief food contributors are green, leafy vegetables followed by certain vegetable oils (soybean, rapeseed and olive oils). Recent analyses by high pressure liquid chromatography are now providing a wide-ranging database of phylloquinone in foods. Menaquinones are found in moderate concentrations in only a few foods such as cheeses (MK-8 and MK-9). A wider spectrum of MKs is synthesized by the gut microflora, and their intestinal absorption probably accounts for most of the hepatic stores, particularly those with very long side chains (MKs-10--13) synthesized by members of the genus Bacteroides. The site of absorption of floral MKs is not known, but reasonable concentrations are found in the terminal ileum where bile salt-mediated absorption is possible. Both phylloquinone and menaquinones are bioactive in hepatic gamma-carboxylation but long-chain MKs are less well absorbed. Liver stores of vitamin K are relatively small and predominantly MKs-7--13. The hepatic reserves of phylloquinone (approximately 10% of the total) are labile and turn over at a faster rate than menaquinones. Trabecular and cortical bone appear to contain substantial concentrations of both phylloquinone and menaquinones. A majority (approximately 60-70%) of the daily dietary intake of phylloquinone is lost to the body by excretion, which emphasizes the need for a continuous dietary supply to maintain tissue reserves.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Availability
  • Bone and Bones / physiology*
  • Food Analysis
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Vitamin K / chemistry
  • Vitamin K / metabolism*
  • Vitamin K 1 / analysis


  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin K 1