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General Health Articles

Blood Thinners - What You Need to Know About Them

The chief reason to thin the blood is to keep blood clots from forming. When the body is injured in any way it sends special cells called platelets to repair the area. These can stick together and obstruct veins. A group of these cells can form at the entrance to a vital organ and block off circulation to it, which is called a thrombosis. When a group of these cells breaks free and blocks a vein or organ it is called an embolism. Both can cause heart attacks and strokes.

Blood thinners are widely prescribed to help avoid strokes and heart attacks. They act as anti-coagulants, keeping the blood cells from sticking to each other. The most common are Coumadin (warfarin), synthetic versions of the naturally-occurring coumarin, which is found in trace amounts in plants such as licorice, lavender, and woodruff, and aspirin.

Coumadin is also used as a rat poison, and some people who use Coumadin have side effects including bleeding. Many commonly used medications interact with warfarin, as do some foods, and its activity has to be monitored by frequent blood testing for the international normalization ratio (INR) to ensure an adequate yet safe dose is taken.

• Coumadin can cause bleeding, hemorrhaging, and pain in the toes caused by small lumps of cholesterol that settle there; it can also interact with other medications and even foods and herbs, like garlic. There also disturbing recent (2009-10) findings about the safety of warfarin: it nearly doubles the risk of dying after a traumatic injury. And from the May, 2010 issue of the journal Archives of Neurology, people who are taking warfarin when they have a stroke are subject to a nearly 10-fold higher risk of brain hemorrhage if they're treated with an intravenous clot-dissolving medication (tPA). For these and other reasons, the use of Coumadin as the blood thinner of choice is declining.

• Aspirin can cause internal bleeding and irritation to the stomach lining 

Natural blood thinners

Many natural blood thinners contain coumarin in small amounts, along with other natural compounds. Some patients have found that when used by ingesting the foods that contain them, or taken in supplement form, they can work as well as prescription medications.

Most work by keeping the platelets from sticking to each other, which is the whole purpose of using blood thinners.

NOTE: If taking Coumadin or other prescription blood thinners do not discontinue them and start a natural remedy before consulting a physician.

Garlic, which studies have shown can reduce the build-up of cholesterol as well as reducing plaque deposits in the aorta; garlic can also react with warfarin

Feverfew, a traditional garden herb, originally used to reduce fever

Dong quai, also called Angelica sinensis, which is also known as the “female ginseng,” is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat blood pressure problems and mild anemia, and also as an anti-inflammatory; it has trace amounts of natural coumarin

Ginger, which studies suggest may inhibit clotting; but it also can be an intestinal irritant          

Gingko biloba improves blood flow to all parts of the body

Fish oil contains the fatty acids EPA and DHA which break down fibrin. Fibrin is involved in blood clot formation. Fish oil helps the blood flow more freely and helps in the prevention of new clots. This is especially important if you’ve had a clot that has been cleared away. Recommended dose is one tablespoon three times daily to start, then reducing to one tablespoon twice daily; continue with 11/2 tablespoons daily for maintenance.

Vitamin E, which studies suggest may inhibit the harmful effects of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Cholesterol can block arteries and cause heart attacks. An Australian study found that taking 100-200 mg of the gamma tocopherol form of vitamin E lowered platelet aggregation, or clot formation and reduced LDL cholesterol significantly. We suggest taking a complete natural form of vitamin E and not the synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol form or other synthetic varieties. The recommended dose is 400 IU of mixed tocopherols, three times a day to start, and reducing to 600 IU daily.

Nattokinase, made from an enzyme produced in fermented soy beans, hinders clot formation and thins blood, but should not be used when taking any other blood thinner: consult a physician first

• Red algae, also called dulse, which has been shown in studies to have anti-coagulant and anti-tumor properties

A natural form of vitamin C is always recommended if you have a tendency to platelet aggregation. Whenever the body is under stress or is injured, vitamin C is beneficial in repairing tissue. We suggest 1-2 grams two to three times daily, or to bowel tolerance.

• A deficiency in vitamin K can inhibit clot formation. It is found in: alfalfa, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables and soybeans. Also: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, egg yolks, liver, oatmeal, rye, and wheat. If you are taking Coumadin or other blood thinners, inform your doctor before consuming vitamin K as it may thin the blood too much.

Magnesium has an important role to play in preventing blood clots and keeping the blood thin - much like aspirin but without the side effects. Start with 400 mg daily.

• Do you have hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)? Supplementing with iodine helps with this condition and also reduces the tendency to form blood clots.

Warning: If you are going to have surgery, including dental, make sure your doctor knows if you are taking any form of blood thinner!

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