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Control Blood Clots Safely

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February 16, 2015 (Updated: August 4, 2021)
Lily Moran

If I asked you to tell me what you know about blood clots, the first words out of your mouth may likely be “heart attack,” “stroke,” or “death.” For such a natural process, blood clotting sure has gotten a bad rap.

Let me set the record straight. Normal, proper blood clotting can save your life.

Say you accidentally nick your finger with a knife while preparing dinner. Your body immediately takes action. Within minutes, platelets in your blood stick to the edges of your injury. Eventually a “plug” forms and stops the external bleeding.

At the same time, a material called fibrin seals the inside of the wound. This clot stays in place until you’ve healed, then it dissolves and life goes on.

Without this amazing repair system in place, even a small cut would turn into a life-threatening bleed out.

However, sometimes clots develop for no good reason. These are the ones we need to worry about. Conditions such as high blood pressure, hardened arteries (atherosclerosis), diabetes, obesity, and some blood disorders are often to blame.

Sitting still for too long can also lead to clots in the legs. (You often hear of this happening to truck drivers or people who fly or drive a lot for a living.) Older people are also at greater risk, as are smokers and pregnant women. In addition, certain drugs (most notably birth control pills) can increase the likelihood of clots.

These kinds of clots serve no helpful purpose and are actually quite dangerous. They can block blood flow to the heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke. And if they dislodge from your leg and travel to your lungs, you could suffer a potentially deadly pulmonary embolism.

You can see why doctors are so quick to prescribe blood-thinning (anticoagulant) drugs to prevent clots. Unfortunately, these meds have some pretty serious side effects.

Case in point: This past fall, research presented at an annual meeting of the American Heart Association showed that the anti-clotting medication warfarin, taken with aspirin, could raise the risk of dementia in patients with abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation).

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Patients were taking this drug combination to prevent stroke, but the study found that long-term use (up to 10 years) could cause micro bleeds in the brain. As more bleeds occur over time, the risk of dementia rises.

This is just another complication to add to the ever-growing list of anticoagulant side effects. Since the drug inhibits clotting, the most severe side effect is uncontrolled bleeding. This can come across as heavy nosebleeds, bleeding gums, prolonged menstrual periods, or unusual or easy bruising.

In bleeding emergencies, older blood thinning drugs such as warfarin have specific antidotes that can reverse its anti-clotting effect. However, newer drugs such as rivaroxaban (Xarelto) and dabigatran (Pradaxa) do not have any antidotes or treatments to stop heavy bleeding. [Update: In October 2015, a drug treatment was approved to stop bleeding with dabigatran.]

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what a catastrophe this could be.

For some high-risk patients, such as those who have already suffered a stroke or who have recurrent atrial fibrillation, the benefits of taking an anticoagulant such as warfarin or even low-dose aspirin may outweigh the risks.

This is obviously a decision you need to make with your doctor. But for lower risk patients who would like to proactively prevent potential clotting, I would not recommend using prescription blood thinners.

There are natural options that are much more effective and far safer in the long run.

“Fantastic Four” Natural Blood Thinners

I have been recommending the following four blood-thinning nutrients for years. I have yet to see or hear of any major side effects or complaints.

  • Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids. EFAs have many heart-healthy properties, including their ability to make platelets less prone to clotting. One study found that men with the highest omega-3 intake had the lowest levels of fibrinogen—a protein in the blood that gets converted to fibrin.
  • Vitamin E. This antioxidant vitamin not only protects against free radical damage in the arteries, it acts as a mild blood thinner. You can take it in supplement form or get it naturally through foods such as nuts, chickpeas, lentils, spinach, and broccoli.
  • Nattokinase. Derived from a fermented Japanese soy dish, natto helps activate plasmin, an enzyme that breaks down clot-forming fibrin. This prevents thickening of the blood (which can lead to clotting) and allows for freer blood flow.
  • Serrapeptase. This enzyme (which comes from silkworms) is widely used in Europe and Asia as an anti-inflammatory. It also has been shown to break down fibrin and reduce the buildup of fat, plaque, and cholesterol associated with atherosclerosis.

If you’re currently on a prescription blood thinner and aren’t considered high risk, make sure you work with your doctor to wean yourself off the drug before switching to an alternative. You want to be careful since taking prescription and natural anticoagulants together can make your blood way too thin.

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