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New research in rats highlights the cognitive benefits of vitamin K, which can be found in leafy greens. Michael Hütten/EyeEm/Getty Images
  • Dementia is a condition that affects cognitive functioning.
  • Symptoms can include loss of memory and ability to function in a way that can interfere with quality of life.
  • In a new study in rodents, scientists studied how vitamin K can affect older rats’ cognitive abilities.
  • The researchers learned that the vitamin has the potential to improve cognitive abilities.

As people get older, the risk of developing dementia increases. Dementia is the term given to a group of diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects millions of people.

There presently is no cure for dementia; however, some medications are available that can help with symptoms. Additionally, researchers continue looking for ways to either reduce the severity of symptoms or prevent the disease from progressing as rapidly.

A new study from AlMaarefa University in Saudi Arabia indicates that vitamin K may help protect against “cognitive deterioration.” The new study, which was presented at the Experimental Biology meeting on April 5th, 2022, tested giving a vitamin K supplement to rats.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia “is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life.”

Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be a result of the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain, called amyloid plaques. These can stop the brain cells from signaling as well as they did before and damage them.

There are other types of dementia, and vascular dementia is thought to be caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, which can also damage brain cells.

Per the most recent data from the Alzheimer’s Association, people ages 65 and older are at the highest risk for developing Alzheimer’s dementia. The association reports that 6.5 million people currently have this specific form of dementia in the United States.

Some signs and symptoms of dementia the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists include:

  • Forgetting the names of loved ones
  • Having mood changes
  • Being unable to remember old memories
  • Struggling to complete tasks
  • Having difficulty with communication

While there is no cure for dementia, there are some medications and therapies that can help with symptoms, such as donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine.

It is important to take in many different types of vitamins and minerals to maintain health. One vitamin that plays a role in both brain and bone health is vitamin K, which is often found in green leafy vegetables.

Professor Mohamed El-Sherbiny, the senior author of the study, spoke with Medical News Today and explained why vitamin K is important.

“The aging process is associated with deterioration of brain functions,” said Prof. El-Sherbiny. “Vitamin K is a natural fat-soluble vitamin … [it] protects the brain from the development of Alzheimer’s.”

Prof. El-Sherbiny is an anatomy professor at AlMaarefa University.

“There is a recommended daily amount for vitamin K that varies with age,” Prof. El-Sherbiny continued.

“Consuming adequate amounts of vegetables and fruits is satisfactory to maintain normal vitamin K levels. However, supplements are also available to substitute for natural sources in case of inability to consume them.”

Since vitamin K can affect brain functioning, the researchers in this study wanted to see how it affects cognitive functioning in rats.

The researchers conducted a 17-month long trial on rats. One group received a vitamin K supplement, and the other did not.

The researchers administered Menaquinone-7 (MK-7), which the authors note “is a major form of vitamin K2.”

The rats went through a series of cognitive functioning tests throughout the study. According to the authors, they tested “to assess cognitive level, anxious, and depressive-like behavior.”

By the end of the study, the rats that received the vitamin K supplements had reduced levels of cognitive impairment, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, the authors note that these rats experienced “improved spatial memory and learning ability.”

“Vitamin K2 demonstrated a very promising impact in hindering aging-related behavioral, functional, biochemical, and histopathological changes in the senile aging brain,” says Prof. El-Sherbiny.

Prof. El-Sherbiny told MNT that this study shows how important it is to monitor vitamin K levels in people at risk for dementia.

“The most important implications are paying attention to vitamin K in the aged population and its relation to Alzheimer’s and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases.”

– Prof. El-Sherbiny

Dr. Jennifer Bramen, a senior research neuroscientist, spoke with MNT on the findings. Dr. Bramen is “cautiously optimistic” about the results of the study, but believes more research is needed — particularly in humans.

“There are many forms of vitamin K, and they all have different dietary sources,” commented Dr. Bramen. “MK-7 is found in fermented vegetables, and there are known benefits of eating these foods.”

“They are excellent for your gut microbiome, which has a well-established link to cognitive decline,” Dr. Bramen continued. “I would recommend incorporating these into a diet designed to promote brain health and cognition.”

Dr. Bramen works at Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.