The movement of blood through our vascular system, pumped by the heart (which beats billions of times over the average life span), is vital for the maintenance of health and vitality. Anything that makes that flow less efficient or which blocks it entirely is detrimental to our wellbeing. Blood clots and other vascular constrictions pose a serious risk to our health, and can cause fatal heart attacks and strokes.
Many of us are aware of the dangers of DVT or deep vein thrombosis, a condition associated with long-haul travel in which the body is immobilised for many hours, often in a sitting position. But there are many situations other than immobility that increase the risk of blood clots: obesity, pregnancy, age (over 60), smoking, oral contraceptives, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, family history and trauma. Those suffering cancer can also have between a 5% and 25% increase, especially with metastatic cancer. Chemotherapy also inflames blood vessels and can also lead to higher instances of clots, as can surgery which immobilises patients.
The risk and outcome of blood clots may be terrifying, but they are also one of the most preventable issues with the right diet and lifestyle program.
Keeping It Flowing
- Stay well hydrated: it may seem to be common sense to keep well hydrated to reduce the risk of blood clots, but many of us still do not systematically drink adequate quantities of water. As a consequence, our blood is thicker and more likely to clot. An adequate intake is around 2.5 litres a day, although that can vary from person to person. As a rough guide, we are adequately hydrated when our urine is clear or a pale straw/yellow colour, and that is best achieved by drinking water throughout the day.
- Keep moving: when we move, our blood also is better able to move. That is why it is important not to remain motionless for long periods. If you are sitting at a desk all day, consider taking mini breaks every 45 mins or hour and getting up to walk around. This can be difficult when movement is restricted, such as during lockdowns and long-haul flights. If we are stuck in a seat for a long time, compression socks can be useful to stop the blood pooling in the legs and feet.
- Take Garlic: this herb contains allicin which is potentially helpful in breaking up harmful platelet clusters in the bloodstream. It is reported that long-term garlic intake may drop bad cholesterol levels by 10%. To activate this compound you must crush the garlic clove first. Some research also suggests that even a quarter of a teaspoon of the odourless garlic powder can have an antithrombotic effect. If you are already taking blood thinners, it is important to consult your GP on how much garlic to consume.
- Eat Optimal Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale and other leafy greens are rich in Vitamin K, a key factor in healthy blood clotting. These nutrient rich foods bring so much benefit that they should not be avoided. However, too much Vitamin K can be a problem, especially if you are on blood thinners like Warfarin, so it is important not to overdo the greens. According to Harvard's Dr Bhatt, leafy greens should be eaten in modest servings and consistently every day rather than having sporadic big portions.
- Cut down on Saturated Fats: unhealthy trans-fats such as those found in meat and dairy can, over time, block the vascular system, and so need to be limited or eliminated if we are to have healthy blood flow.
- Cut down on Refined Sugars: the insulin spikes that we get from eating too much refined sugars cause insulin resistance over time, which is strongly linked to cardiovascular disease. It is also pro-inflammatory which can contribute to atherosclerosis.
- Adopt Primarily a Wholefood Plant-Based Diet: this type of diet is the only one that has been proved to not only reduce the risk of health disease, but actually to reverse it. By cutting out meat and dairy, and focusing on wholefood plants, we have the best chance to maintain healthy blood flow.
- Include Natto in your Diet: a traditional delicacy in Japan, natto is a food made up from fermented soybeans. Research shows that this food is very beneficial to the the vascular system. The only problem with natto — at least for the Western palate — is that it has a pungent smell and slimy/stringy texture. Fortunately there is an extract of natto called NKCP that brings you all the benefits of natto in an odorless tablet. This supplement is a very safe natural alternative, although if you are on medication to thin the blood, please advise your doctor before taking this food supplement. (You can buy NKCP here.)
Do as many of the above as you are able and are comfortable with, and you will lower your risk of vascular problems.