How Thick Is Your Blood?
• By Wyatt Myers | Medically reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
It doesn't get as much attention as cholesterol or blood pressure, but blood viscosity, or blood thickness, plays an important role in heart health. Here's what you need to know.
If you're at all concerned about heart health, you probably have a good understanding of cholesterol and blood pressure, and likely know your numbers. But there may be another critical blood-related issue to consider — blood viscosity, or blood thickness. According to a health report from Harvard University, people with thicker, more viscous blood may be at a greater risk for a heart attack or for developing heart disease.
That was the case for Sarah Klena, a schoolteacher in Orange County, Fla. Despite living a healthy, active lifestyle, she had a heart attack at age 31. Her doctors suspected blood thickness shouldered part of the blame. "The doctors aren't really sure what caused it, although they did say I have the stickier type of blood," she says. "I was a runner and ate pretty well before the heart attack, so since then I've just tried to concentrate on anything that improves my health, like acupuncture, massage, yoga, meditation, and, of course, running."
Blood Thickness: What You Need to Know
If you didn't know the role blood viscosity plays in heart health, you're not alone. Most people have no idea how thick their blood is, nor do they know how to make it thinner. But it's something that should be on most people's radar for heart health, says Mary Ann Bauman, MD, a national physician spokeswoman for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement.
"For overall heart health, having a normal viscosity would be ideal," explains Dr. Bauman. "Viscosity is an indication of the 'thickness' of the blood, or its resistance to flowing normally. When the blood is thicker, it moves sluggishly; there is an increased risk for red cells to adhere to one another and form clots, and for there not to be enough oxygenation in a given time to areas such as the legs or the brain, and to vital organs. The heart will work harder to pump the needed oxygen to the body." She says that blood viscosity can increase because of many factors, such as certain medications, too many red blood cells, high lipid levels, and other conditions, including diabetes and cancer.
There are tests to check for thick blood, but they're rarely used routinely — "it is usually done in patients who have blood cancers," says Bauman.
However, there are clues that you may be at risk for a blood viscosity issue. If you have other heart health problems like blood clots or high cholesterol, or you're a regular smoker, then the chances are also good that your blood might be more viscous than it should be, notes Sriram Padmanabhan, MD, a cardiologist at the MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Baltimore.
What You Can Do About Viscous Blood
The good news is that strategies to improve blood viscosity are not too different from those for general heart health. "Exercise definitely helps the blood flow better by improving the health of the arteries, reducing blood pressure, and reducing cholesterol, among other benefits," says Dr. Padmanabhan. "Quitting smoking goes a long way in improving overall health, reducing the clotting ability of blood and reducing the chance of a heart attack. Reducing fat in our diet, losing weight, keeping cholesterol in check, and keeping blood pressure under tight control all help directly and indirectly in reducing the chance of heart attacks, which is essentially related to blood flow."
When these measures aren't enough, you may need to rely on medication and other guidelines from your doctor to reduce your risk. "In general, the ability of blood to flow easily and to clot appropriately is determined by genetics," adds Padmanabhan. "Some patients will need specific treatments and medications to make their blood flow better." Schedule regular appointments with your doctor to review your risks and protect your heart health.
Thick Blood: Overview, Symptoms, Causes, Natural Treatments, and Medicine
Thick blood (also known as hypercoagulability, Antiphospholipids, and Hughes Syndrome) is a condition where the blood is more viscous (thicker and stickier) than normal. The unusual increase in the thickness of blood is due to an abnormality in the clotting process.
The thickened blood hinders the circulation of oxygen, nutrients, and hormones and prevents them from being transferred successfully to tissues and cells throughout the body. This may result in widespread nutritional and hormonal deficiencies as well as Hypoxia, a condition in which cells have a low level of oxygen.
When the circulatory system is functioning normally, the clotting process begins only when a cut occurs in a blood vessel. Thrombin, a blood enzyme, is released into the bloodstream. It promotes a biochemical reaction which results in the formation of clotting agents.
The sole purpose of clotting agents is to create a single clot. When the job is done, the clotting process should come to a halt. But for those with chronic conditions, these clotting agents do not turn off, but rather begin to coat the capillaries with a fibrin layer. This causes the blood to become thick and provides an ideal environment in which pathogens can “hide” and thrive.
Thick Blood: Common Symptoms
You may have thick blood (also known as hypercoagulability) if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:
Abnormal appearance of thickened blood when you’re having your blood drawn
Slow bleeding when you are cut
Widespread nutritional and hormonal deficiencies
Presence of one or more chronic conditions, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Candida, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome
In the event of thick blood, the following problems may exist:
Disruption of the production and function of the body’s natural blood thinners
Difficulty treating any bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
Disruption of oxygen and nutrient delivery throughout the body
Increased burden on the heart to pump thicker blood which may lead to an increased risk of heart attack and/or stroke. It is now suggested that thick blood is a better indicator of the risk of heart attack and stroke than cholesterol levels. However, testing for thick blood is not commonly performed in conventional medicine.
Thick Blood: Common Causes
Certain ethnic races (particularly Caucasian) may have a genetic predisposition towards thick blood. Defects in the coagulation genes adversely affect the capability of the body to turn off the switch that activates the clotting process. These defects may also affect the body’s ability to clean up the fibrin deposits formed as a result of the clotting process.
Thick blood may also be caused by the presence of harmful pathogens such as fungi, viruses, bacteria, and parasites. These pathogens can actually activate a coagulation response in the body as a way to avoid being attacked by the body’s immune system. Soluble fibrin monomer (SFM), a clotting agent, lines the capillaries with fibrin making it impossible to transfer oxygen and nutrients to body tissues. A lack of oxygen and nutrients then creates an ideal environment for these pathogens to survive and cause illness. The blood must first be thinned to expose the pathogens before they can be eradicated.
Heavy metal toxicity or exposure to environmental toxins can also activate unusual production levels of soluble fibrin monomer (SFM). Stress and trauma have also been known to cause thick blood.
Thick Blood: Natural and Alternative Treatments
As part of the comprehensive program of nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle modification, you may want to consider some of the products listed below to help support the health of your circulatory system.
Brain Support Supplements – Can increase circulation to the brain and throughout the rest of the body as well.
Magnesium Supplements – Magnesium plays a major role in blood pressure and cardiovascular health, and it is essential in supporting the correction of thick blood.
Complete Daily Mineral Vitamin Supplements – Support the health of all your systems and organs to promote healthy blood thickness.
Vitamin C Supplements – Builds and strengthens collagen to provide essential support for the blood vessels and arteries. Also increases artery and blood vessel flexibility and prevents inflammation in the cardiovascular system.
Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements – Add heart-healthy EPA and DHA fatty acids to promote circulation.
Nattosyn Supplements – Fights fibrin build-up and keeps blood flowing smoothly.
Systemic Enzymes Supplements – Helps reduce pain and swelling and keeps your blood flowing smoothly.
B-12 Methylcobalamin Supplements – Helps promote cellular health.
Thick Blood: Dietary and Lifestyle Recommendations
The quality of your health depends upon many pieces that not only include the health of your bodily systems, but also include a healthy diet, exercise, and spirituality.
Treatment of thick blood may center on developing general healthy diet guidelines, in addition to making some key adjustments in your relationship with food.
Dietary recommendations for thick blood include:
Add ground flax meal to your diet for digestive regularity, to help eliminate excess toxins that may be aggravating the condition of thick blood.
Add saturated fats to your diet that have antimicrobial properties such as organic extra virgin coconut oil.
Choose complex carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index such as brown rice, raw apples, sprouted-grain bread, and winter squash.
Increase your omega-3 essential fatty acids by selecting ground flax meal, wild-caught salmon, minimal-mercury albacore tuna, fish oil, avocado, and sprouted walnuts.
Add nutrient-dense and unprocessed foods such as sprouted nuts and seeds to your diet.
Foods to AVOID include:
All simple or refined carbohydrates (sugar, white bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, crackers, etc.) – Read more about good carbs and bad carbs.
All foods containing refined sugar or synthetic sugar-substitutes such as aspartame, Splenda®, etc. Choose a natural sweetener like Xylosweet instead.
Alcoholic beverages in excess since they hinder the functioning of the immune and digestive systems
Fermented foods such as cheese and wine
Excessive caffeine consumption – While moderate caffeine consumption may be beneficial, excessive caffeine intake can disrupt the body’s systems, causing insomnia and digestive irregularity (constipation and/or diarrhea).
Carbonated soft drinks that alter your blood’s pH level
Fungi such as mushrooms
Bottom crawlers such as oysters, clams, and lobster that may contain toxic levels of mercury
Deep-sea fish such as tuna, mackerel, and swordfish that may contain toxic levels of mercury. Choose minimal-mercury albacore tuna instead.
Farm-raised fish that contain PCBs and not enough omega-3 essential fatty acids, due to their land-based diets. Choose wild-caught salmon instead.
Yeast and wheat products (breads, crackers, pasta, etc.) that contain gluten
Sodium nitrite found in processed foods such as hot dogs, lunch meats, and bacon
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) found in many foods as a flavor enhancer
Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) found in many processed foods, deep-fried foods, fast food, and junk food. Read more about good fats and bad fats.
Due to thick blood, the body’s ability to effectively excrete toxins is compromised, and the body can easily be overcome by infections. Exercise that really makes you sweatrelieves the burden by helping the body release toxins. Exercise also promotes increased circulation, which aids in the efficient delivery of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.
Other tips for treating thick blood:
If you have “silver” fillings, get an evaluation from a mercury-free dentist who specializes in the safe removal of mercury amalgam fillings. Find a mercury-free dentist in your area now. Exposure to heavy metals, such as mercury in fillings, can activate unusual production levels of soluble fibrin monomer (SFM) — a clotting agent which can cause thick blood. Read more about heavy metal toxicity.
Thick Blood: Conventional and Prescription Medications
David Berg, PhD, who is at the forefront of research being done on the relationship between thick blood and chronic conditions, has found that up to 90% of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) patients benefit from blood thinning agents. He also found that women who previously suffered from chronic miscarriages were able to carry a baby to term, after being treated for thick blood.
The following is a list of common blood thinning agents prescribed to treat thick blood:
Heparin – An anticoagulant drug, injected under the skin that decreases the overly thick nature of the blood to a more “normal” state. For those who have thick blood, it produces almost immediate results. Side effects may include bruising, or bleeding more easily if an injury is sustained. Heparin use can create a high potassium level in the body, so avoid any potassium supplementation while undergoing treatment. It can also interfere with the activation of vitamin D.
Warfarin – (Brand name Coumadin®) An oral blood thinner that is stronger than heparin. Side effects are the same as heparin. Additionally, it may cause birth defects, so women of childbearing age may consider using heparin instead. It is known to deplete vitamin K. Also, avoid supplementation with vitamin A and E while undergoing treatment with this medication. It should be noted that heparin is better than warfarin because it is an anti-platelet medication useful to those who have over-active platelets — which may be about half of those affected with thick blood.
Aspirin – Reduces inflammation, suppresses fever, and acts as an anticoagulant. It is known to deplete iron, folic acid, potassium, sodium, and vitamin C. Studies have also shown that use of aspirin, especially long-term usage, comes with an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. more