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Careful with that K

Some people call them "vitamin K bullets." Most people call them Brussels sprouts. I have a personal fondness for those tasty little cabbage balls. But if I were taking a blood thinning medication like Coumadin (warfarin) I'd need to assure I'd had a thorough discussion with my health provider (or pharmacist) about exactly how many of those mini-cabbages, and/or how much vitamin K in other forms, I was eating in a given day (or week).

Recently, I encountered a local pharmacist who reminded me how "finicky, old — but still safe and effective —" medications like Coumadin can be when it comes to indulging in certain foods. In times past, we may have been advised to avoid vitamin K foods altogether, but now it's a matter of the appropriate dosage in combination with careful meal planning.

Brussels sprouts, and such dark-green vegetables as spinach and kale, contain loads of vitamin K. Here's an example of what can happen: Say you take a blood thinner, and you've been told to limit yourself to specific serving sizes of Vitamin K vegetables. But you really love asparagus. So you buy them and have a few spears — and then another few. Then "¦ uh-oh. Get the picture?

As we age, all things related to our health and well-being become a bit more complicated. We have to be vigilant on our own behalf. Which is why I keep touting the "Living Well" (chronic disease self-management) workshops (call 864-9611 or go to www.sohealthyoregon.org to learn more).

This can get complicated — and interesting, as well. Let's look at it from an especially important angle for people who are not on any blood thinning medications. An article on the front page of this month's issue of Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter (www.healthletter.tufts.edu) discusses vitamin K foods and their powerful and positive affects in fighting inflammation — the kind of inflammation attached to chronic conditions like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.

According to the summary from the Tufts researchers (and a recent article in the Journal of Epidemiology) "the mechanism by which vitamin K1 might combat inflammation isn't known" but the findings of a "protective effect" are very compelling. (It actually makes me want to load up my grocery cart with little sprout balls, big bunches of broccoli and get out my steamer.)

So the next question might be, "How much vitamin K gives you the anti-inflammatory benefit?" As most things are, it's tied to the individual. Tufts experts say the recommended daily amount is 90-120 micrograms (depending on gender and age), whichtranslates to about ¾ of a cup of broccoli or 1/2; cup of Brussels sprouts.

Now if you're not fond of dark-green, inflammation-fighting, vitamin-K filled vegetables, none of this feels very relevant to you, does it? But then, I suspect you've never eaten six delicate spears of just-picked asparagus, lightly steamed, sprinkled with a few toasted-almond slivers and lightly drizzled in lemon-butter.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human services at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.