What is a blood clot?
Blood clotting is a normal response to laceration or damage to the lining of a blood vessel. Once vessel damage has occurred, blood elements called platelets immediately begin to cling to the injured site and release chemicals that attract more platelets. This rapidly growing pileup of platelets initiates the sequence of events that finally forms a clot.
The complete coagulation process is complicated, with over 30 different substances involved. Usually clotting is a useful process to stop us bleeding from death. However undesirable clotting can also occur which can prove dangerous.
How and why do blood clots form?
Factors that enhance blood clot formation are called coagulation factors or procoagulants. Although Vitamin K is not directly involved in coagulation, this fat-soluble vitamin is required for the synthesis of four of the procoagulants made by the liver.
Factors that inhibit clotting are called anticoagulants. Whether or not blood clots depends on a delicate balance between these two groups of factors.
Normally, anticoagulants dominate and clotting is prevented; but when a vessel is ruptured, procoagulant activity in that area increases dramatically and clot formation begins.
Once the clotting cascade has begun, it continues until the clot is formed. Normally, two important homeostatic mechanisms prevent clots from becoming unnecessarily large: (1) swift removal of coagulation factors, and (2) inhibition of activated clotting factors.
Factors that normally ward off unnecessary clotting include structural and molecular characteristics of the endothelial lining of the blood vessels. As long as the endothelium is smooth and intact, platelets are prevented from clinging and piling up. Also, the anti-thrombotic substances - heparin and PGI2 - secreted by the endothelial cells normally prevent platelet adhesion. PGI2 secreted by the endothelial surface actively repels the platelets as they pass by in the bloodstream. Additionally, it has been found that Vitamin E quinone, a molecule formed in the body when Vitamin E reacts with oxygen, is a potent anticoagulant.
Undesirable intravascular clotting...
Despite the body's many safeguards, undesirable intravascular clotting, called "hemostasis in the wrong place" by some, sometimes occurs.
A clot that develops and persists in an unbroken blood vessel is called a thrombus. If the thrombus is large enough, it may block circulation to the cells beyond the occlusion and lead to the death of those tissues. For example, if the blockage occurs in the coronary circulation of the heart (coronary thrombosis), the consequences may be death of the heart muscle and a fatal heart attack.
If the thrombus breaks away from the vessel wall and floats freely in the bloodstream, it becomes an embolus. An embolus is usually no problem until it encounters a blood vessel that is too narrow for it to pass through. For example, emboli that become trapped in the lungs (pulmonary emboli) can dangerously impair the ability of the body to obtain oxygen, while a cerebral embolus may cause a stroke.
Conditions that roughen the vessel endothelium, such as arteriosclerosis, severe burns or inflammation, cause thromboembolytic disease by allowing platelets to gain a foothold. Slowly flowing blood or blood stasis is another risk factor, particularly in immobilised patients and those taking a long flight in economy-class seats (deep vein thrombosis or DVT). In this case clotting factors are not washed away as usual and accumulate so that clot formation finally becomes possible.
Preventing undesirable clotting...
A number of drugs, most importantly aspirin, heparin, and dicoumarol, are used clinically to prevent undesirable clotting in patients at risk for heart attack and/or stroke.
Fibrin, the major constituent of most occlusive thrombi, has a platelet aggregating effect. The proteolytic enzyme, Bromelain, has been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation as well as inhibit fibrinogen formation.
Flavonoids, found in tea, red wine, and grape juice, have natural anticoagulant activity. They reduce red cell aggregation and whole blood viscosity. Rouleaux formation can precede blood clots, and the Bioflavonoid Rutin reduces rouleaux formation by regulating acute phase proteins.
GLA (PGE1 precursor) is a potent inhibitor of platelet aggregation. EPA, from Fish Oil, also markedly reduces platelet aggregation. A lack of essential fatty acids can encourage internal blood clots.
Bilberry is good for improving microcirculation, particularly in the retina. Anthocyanosides strengthen capillaries by protecting them from free radical damage. They also stimulate the formation of healthy connective tissue and aid in the formation of new capillaries. Bilberry may reduce platelet stickiness (platelet aggregation), a risk factor associated with atherosclerosis.
Garlic has well-documented health benefits including reducing cholesterol, triglycerides, and platelet aggregation, and improving circulation. If our arteries are narrowed, the risk of a heart attack or stroke is highest during the hours following a rich fatty meal. Blood thickened by fat particles during digestion is more subject to clotting. Garlic has been shown to moderate this effect, by reducing blood viscosity, if taken during or shortly after the meal.
Excess coffee can increase the danger. Dutch researchers gave volunteers 6 cups of strong coffee a day for 2 weeks. At the end of the time they found that their blood fat levels had increased 36%, also their Vitamin B6 levels had dropped 21%.
Ginger has been shown to reduce the stickiness of blood platelets and may thereby reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and abnormal blood clotting.
Ginkgo contains unique compounds called ginkgolides, which are potent inhibitors of a platelet-activating factor involved in the development of cardiovascular disorders. Ginkgo also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and aids in the maintenance peripheral and microcirculation.
Numerous pharmacological and clinical studies have shown that Hawthorn improves blood flow to and from the heart by strengthening its contractions. Circulation is also improved to the extremities by reducing the resistance in the arteries. Experiments in China have shown Hawthorn to lower blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels, and thus useful in the prevention and treatment of arteriosclerosis.
The effect of toxins in clot formation...
Check for toxicity that may lead to rouleaux formation. Food allergies may be a significant contributor. Heavy metal levels should also be checked. Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids, including Rutin, aids in thinning the blood and prevents blood clots. Vitamin E is an anticoagulant, a lack of which increases risk of blood clots.
Other nutrients of benefit are Vitamins B6, B12, B3, B5, and the minerals Magnesium, Selenium and Zinc. White Willow bark may be helpful and the compound Coenzyme Q10 is also beneficial. The tissue salt Kali mur is the remedy for sluggish conditions. It combines with the organic substance, fibrin.
Other risk factors include...
Atherosclerosis, hypertension and high cholesterol are all risk factors increasing the chance of clot formation. A stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism may result. For specific information on these conditions, look them up under our ailments column.
Nutritional and Herbal support for Blood Clots include:
Omega 3 Fish Oil - The 0mega 3 fatty acids, mainly found in certain seafood's, have been clearly shown to offer some protection against heart disease. They help reduce abnormal blood clotting, high cholesterol and blood pressure - all factors which contribute to this condition. The fish oils are not directly responsible for these actions, as the body converts the fatty acids into prostaglandins and other similar compounds.
Ginkgo Biloba 9,000+ - This formulation has been designed to assist peripheral circulation and aid the various ailments which are common in individuals suffering from poor circulation. Ginkgo helps send blood, and therefore oxygen and nutrients, to the extremities of the body including the brain. Also contains Brahmi, Siberian Ginseng, Withania, Hawthorn, L-Glutamine and L-Tyrosine.
Garlicin HC - Combines the benefits of Garlic and Hawthorn berry extract. Garlic helps support circulation by lowering serum cholesterol and helping maintain circulatory efficiency. Garlicin HC also includes Vitamin E which has been shown to help the oxidation of cholesterol. Also contains Rutin and Cayenne.
Co Enzyme Q10 - Is essential for a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. Antioxidant. Assists with brain and nervous system function and heart problems such as angina.
Some interesting points on Blood Clots:
- Increase the consumption of garlic, ginger, cayenne and onions. These foods have been shown to reduce platelet aggregation (seen after a high-fat meal) and increase the breakdown of fibrin.
- The pineapple enzyme Bromelain also reduces the risk of clotting.
- Increase exercise to improve blood flow, and avoid sitting or lying for long periods of time. Ensure your hydration is optimal by drinking (sipped slowly) no less than 2 litres of water a day. Dehydration of just 3% increases blood viscosity - increasing sluggishness and stickiness of blood.
- Do not smoke. Smoking creates free radicals that damage blood cells and the endothelial lining of the blood vessels - causing platelet aggregation and increasing the risk of abnormal clotting.