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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Blood - Is Yours Thick or Thin?

You know the old saying, "Blood is thicker than water"? Of course, that saying applies to the loyalty among blood relatives. And it's true that in most cases, relationships between family members are "thicker" and stronger than most other relationships. But in a literal, physical sense, blood can be too thick.

Normal, healthy individuals should have a blood thickness that makes it flow through the veins and arteries without forming blood clots too easily. On the other hand, blood shouldn't be too thin so as to spring a leak that can't be stopped. People have died from something as simple as a nosebleed that just wouldn't stop bleeding. Blood containing too many platelets can form a clot too easily, too few platelets and the opposite happens.

According to nih.gov, your blood should be just thick enough to form a clot in something that is measured as an INR (international normalized ratio). It's about the time, usually seconds, that it takes for your blood to form a clot. This is called Prothrombin time. Healthy people's blood should form a clot between 11 and 13.5 seconds. This would translate into an INR of 0.8 to 1.1.

If a doctor has determined that your blood is too thick and you are running a risk of forming a dangerous blood clot, then he might likely put you on a medication called Coumadin or Warfarin. It is basically rat poison in a pharmaceutical form. It works to thin your blood. If your doctor prescribes one of these medications, your INR likely needs to stay between 2.0 and 3.0.

Most people taking these medicines have to have their INR checked either weekly or monthly, because it can make your blood too thin. In that case, then the doctor will adjust your medication to bring that number down. The higher the INR number, the thinner your blood is.

Most doctors will tell their patients not to eat dark, leafy green vegetables like broccoli or spinach while taking Coumadin. This is because these vegetables are rich in Vitamin K. This vitamin works against Coumadin by making your blood thicker and easier to clot. If your blood gets too thin, then a dark, leafy green salad might do the trick.

There are some foods that naturally make your blood thin. For example, strawberries, blueberries, onions, garlic, cinnamon, paprika, olive oil and oregano to name a few. These fruits and vegetables contain an ingredient known as salicylates that naturally thins the blood. Do you recognize that word? Maybe because it's the main ingredient in aspirin.

Everybody knows that aspirin is a blood thinner. How many times have you heard a doctor tell you before surgery not to take an aspirin two weeks before surgery? Or how the TV commercials that sell aspirin talk about how it can save your life during a heart attack? That's because it's a blood thinner.

So, if the main ingredient in aspirin is salicylate, would it be possible to eat a bowl of strawberries to overcome a headache? Well, the funny thing about some fruits and vegetables like strawberries is that they also contain Vitamin K, the blood thickener. The original Danish word for coagulation (blood clotting) is spelled with a "K", thus the name Vitamin K.

Exercise is also something that thins the blood. So does Vitamin D that you get from sunlight and Vitamin E that you get from many vegetables like spinach and broccoli.  But, didn't we just learn earlier that spinach and broccoli contain Vitamin K, the blood thickener? Yes, we did. It depends on which ingredient the food has  more of.

Eating yogurt or other cultured foods thicken the blood because they help form Vitamin K in the intestinal tract . Omega-3 rich fish is a blood thinner, but some types of fish are too high in mercury to eat very often. Are you confused yet? You should be.

I think it's about achieving a perfect balance which is obviously very hard to do unless you have your INR checked daily. That would probably thin your blood just from all the finger pricks. Probably the best advice (unless you already have a blood condition that warrants a doctor's care) is to eat plenty of a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins and spices, get plenty of sunshine and exercise daily.

But, it seems like we've all heard that before.

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