Healthy Hearts Pump Healthy Blood
"Blood is thicker than water" is an old saying about the importance of family ties. But in the medical world, you don’t want thick blood. Hyperviscosity syndrome—or in plain English, sticky or sludgy blood—spells trouble for healthy hearts.
Simply put, the thicker your blood, the slower it flows through your circulatory system to bring vital nutrients to the cells of your body, and the greater the risk of forming clots. Whenever your blood thickens, it bogs down as it moves through your blood vessels, causing platelets to stick together and clump with one another until BAM! A clot blocks a vessel in the heart, brain, lungs, or wherever it happens to get stuck.
Many times in cardiology, we actually extract blood from high-risk patients in order to thin their blood and prevent a heart attack. And, of course, Coumadin (warfarin) has been widely used as a standard medication to thin the blood and help prevent clotting.
Multiple factors contribute to thick, viscous blood and what physicians call the hyperviscosity syndrome. Some of the major ones include:
- Aging: vessels get stiff, too
- Lack of exercise: couch potatoes clot
- Hematocrit (HCT): the number of red blood cells in your body
- Red blood cell (RBC) deformability: RBCs that aren’t "happy," round, and slippery
- Other blood constituents: white blood cells, lipids, platelets
- Genetics: affect clotting factors
- Heavy metals
- Lack of essential fatty acids (EPA/DHA)
- Environmental toxins: pollute and inflame
- Cigarette smoke: smokers cloud up more than rooms
- Radiation: is hard on blood vessels
- Microbes: bacteria, viruses, spirochetes, and parasites go where they don’t belong
What Thickens the Blood?
Red blood cells are intermingled inside spider web-like configurations. These strands are called fibrin, and if you didn’t have some you’d bleed to death from any cut or scrape. So your body’s job is to produce just enough fibrin to help the blood to clot when needed and maintain balance with natural blood thinning pathways.
When the clotting factors tip the balance, your red blood cells literally get caught up in a fibrin web that bogs them down. The artery walls get injured and vulnerable, and your blood becomes sticky, which leads to clumps and clots. These fibrin webs are a major contributing factor to hyperviscosity, sludging, plaque formation, and eventual vessel closure, called a thrombus.
Unfortunately, there are numerous factors that contribute to imbalances in the clotting processes, known as hypercoagulation syndrome. One famous cardiologist, Dr. Kenneth Kensey, says it all with his image of “red wine vs. red ketchup.” Our goal should be to have our blood looking more like a clear glass filled with fine red wine, rather than a plastic bottle filled with sludgy ketchup.
There’s one, and only one, natural “clot busting” enzyme in the body that maintains balance between clotting and thinning—it’s called plasmin. Fibrin is constantly being formed and degraded in the body, and should plasmin levels be inadequate to break down excess fibrin, then chances are higher for forming a thrombus. This is where nattokinase, the enzyme contained in the Japanese fermented soy product natto, comes in.
You see, the secret of nattokinase is that it acts just like the clot-busting enzyme your body makes; it’s capable of directly breaking down fibrin. Sometimes, our bodies’ natural anti-clotting mechanisms aren’t sufficient, and that’s when natto and nattokinase can be very helpful.
Healthy Blood Solutions
At your next medical examination, ask your doctor for a blood viscosity test, particularly if you’re diabetic or show signs of insulin resistance. The data gleaned from the test on the thickness of your blood will provide valuable information as to what preventative measures you should take to lower your risk of negative cardiovascular outcomes.
Additionally, ask your doctor to check you for inflammation by monitoring your CRP and fibrinogen levels. Your goal is a “clean” CRP level below 1mg/L. A higher CRP reading indicates the presence of inflammation, and much higher (say more than 10 mg/L) might be a sign of an autoimmune disease, cancer, or an infectious condition.
Hyperviscosity causes blood vessels to become more rigid, less elastic and frequently calcified as we get older. One key solution to keeping your blood moving and consequently, “thinner,” is exercise. Try to work up a sweat 30–60 minutes a day.
Next, make sure you are eating foods that have strong blood-thinning properties. These include:
- Ginger and ginger tea
- Green tea
- Healthy, cold-water fish such as wild salmon
Lastly, whenever I encounter a patient with an elevated blood viscosity score, I immediately put them on fish oil and nattokinase, then add in garlic, vitamin E, and bromelain as needed to thin down the viscosity. Make sure your daily supplement regimen includes these critical blood-thinning nutrients in the following dosages:
- Fish oil (1–3 grams)
- Nattokinase (100 mg)
- Garlic (1,000–2,000 mg in capsule form)
- Vitamin E as mixed tocopherols (200–300 IU)
- Bromelain (600 mg)
As a note of caution: If you have been prescribed to take Coumadin for a blood thinning effect, do not take garlic or nattokinase, as they may accelerate the effect. Up to 3 grams daily of fish oil is OK. Don’t take more than 3 grams of fish oil if you are on Coumadin.
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Meet Dr. Sinatra
Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a highly respected and sought-after cardiologist and nutritionist with more than 30 years of clinical practice, research, and study. His integrative approach to heart health focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and maximizing the heart's ability to produce and use energy. More About Dr. Sinatra
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