Blood-thinning drugs, like the anticoagulants used to treat Hillary Clinton, are a medicinal cash cow for the pharmaceutical industry. A new one was just approved by federal regulators – Eliquis, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb – and it is expected to be a money-making blockbuster.
Doctors note powerful clot-busting medicines can have unpleasant, dangerous, and even life-threatening side effects – ranging from weakness and abdominal discomfort to abnormal bleeding. However, a variety of safe and natural alternatives are available for individuals who aren’t in immediate danger of a stroke or heart attack from clotting.
Fish oil, garlic, vitamin E, and nattokinase – an enzyme extracted and purified from natto, a Japanese soybean dish – have all been shown to help thin the blood to varying degrees, without negative side effects associated with drugs like Coumadin (warfarin) and Plavix (clopidogrel). Simply keeping active and hydrated can reduce the risk of blood clots, says David Brownstein, M.D., a board-certified family physician and one of the nation’s foremost practitioners of holistic medicine.
Unfortunately, notes Dr. Brownstein, natural alternatives aren’t for everybody. What’s more, there isn’t a way to track their effectiveness in the same way doctors can now monitor the actions of anti-clotting drugs through routine blood tests.
“There are natural alternatives to blood-thinning drugs out there,” says Dr. Brownstein, a Newsmax contributor and editor of Dr. David Brownstein’s Natural Way to Health newsletter. “The problem is we don’t have a monitor. With Coumadin, you can do a blood test and can tell if your blood is thin or not. With the natural stuff, we can’t tell that.”SPECIAL: Improving Memory Can Reduce Alzheimer's Risk
For this reason, Dr. Brownstein recommends people who are at serious risk of having a blood clot “break off and go to the brain or heart or lungs” take a prescription medicine like Coumadin “until the crisis has passed, to prevent clotting.”
But for people who aren’t facing an acute health crisis, natural alternatives offer a healthy option.
“The best thing you can do is keep hydrated, that’s number one,” he says. “And then the best natural substance I’ve seen to decrease blood clotting is nattokinase.”
Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., with the Heart MD Institute in Manchester, Conn., agrees that patients on Coumadin shouldn’t quit taking the drug without consulting their physician. Coumadin is recommended for people who have enlarged heart chambers; valves that do not function properly; a history of heart attack or embolic stroke; prosthetic or mechanical heart valves or pacemakers; or a condition known as atrial fibrillation (but not “lone AF”), he notes.
“A lot of people want to get off Coumadin, but can’t do it because it would be dangerous for them to do so,” explains Dr. Sinatra, a board-certified cardiologist, nutrition specialist, and author of “The Great Cholesterol Myth,” and more than a dozen other books. “You always have to talk it over with your doctor; we don’t want [higher-risk] people to get off Coumadin.”
But for individuals who want to reduce their risk of blood clots, natural alternatives — taken under a physician’s supervision — are an excellent choice and don’t carry the negative side effects of drugs, or require the inconvenience and discomfort associated with having blood drawn every four to six weeks to monitor an anticoagulant’s action.
Among the most popular and effective alternatives to prescription clot-busting drugs are:
• Nattokinase — Nn enzyme derived from natto, a traditional Japanese soybean dish, is available in supplement form to help thin the blood. It works by boosting the actions of plasmin, an enzyme that breaks down fibrin, a protein involved in the clotting of blood. Recommended dosage: 100 mg daily.
• Fish Oil — Contains omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA and EPA, that make platelet cells in blood less prone to clotting. They also lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of arteries becoming clogged. Cod liver oil and fatty fish — such as salmon, herring, mackerel, albacore tuna, and anchovies — are good sources of omega-3s. They are also found in flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, and pumpkin seeds and in supplement form. Dosage: 2-3 grams daily.
• Garlic — Contains a variety of compounds that prevent platelet cells from clotting, as do onions, jicama, pomegranate juice, olive oil, and alcohol. Garlic can enhance the flavor of many foods; it can also be taken in capsule form. “Garlic is a terrific blood thinner,” says Dr. Sinatra. “I’ve heard from people who’ve cut themselves shaving and then bleeding [excessively].” Dosage: 1-2 grams daily.
• Vitamin E — It's fat-soluble and not only considered a safe, natural mild blood thinner, but is also a powerful antioxidant that protects artery walls from damage caused by free radicals that can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. Good sources of vitamin E include nuts, vegetable oils, chickpeas, lentils, oats, tomatoes, spinach, and broccoli. It is also available as a supplement. Dosage (as mixed tocopherols): 200-300 IU daily.
Some experts recommend aspirin as an anti-platelet agent with significant anti-clotting properties that is often taken to help manage cardiovascular disease. Salicylates — aspirin-like substances that have the ability to block vitamin K absorption, which is essential to blood-clotting processes — have also been shown to have clot-busting effects. Foods that are high in salicylates include many spices such as curry, cayenne pepper, ginger, paprika, cinnamon, turmeric (curcumin), licorice, and peppermint. Fruits high in salicylates include raisins, prunes, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, and strawberries. SPECIAL: Improving Memory Can Reduce Alzheimer's Risk
Magnesium supplements can also prevent blood platelets from becoming too sticky and causing clots.
Taking any these substances in conjunction with anticoagulant drugs can be dangerous and cause too much blood-thinning activity or bleeding.
Dr. Brownstein and Dr. Sinatra say they have not yet prescribed the latest clot-busting drug, Eliquis, because it was only recently approved by the FDA. The medication has been highly anticipated by cardiologists and is believed to carry fewer side effects than Coumadin and requires less monitoring. The drug, also known as apixaban, is the third new anti-clotting medicine to be approved in recent years — after Pradaxa.
Cardiologists expect Eliquis will likely be aggressively promoted as a better alternative to older clot-busters like Coumadin.