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Foods that Thin the Blood Naturally


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Overview

There are a number of foods and supplements that are known to thin the blood. These include foods with high amounts of aspirin-like substances called salicylates, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E supplements, and foods with natural antibiotic properties.

basket of strawberries
  Strawberries contain a very high amount of naturally occurring salicylates.

While many Americans have problems with blood clots, it is important to note that blood thinning foods are not desirable for everyone in the population. I have been an easy bleeder all of my life, so I have compiled this list so that I know which foods to limit, in order to keep my blood from being too thin.

People taking prescription anti-coagulant drugs also need to be careful not to consume too many foods with natural blood thinning compounds in addition to their regular medication. One of my relatives is on a prescription anticoagulant drug for blood clots and has had eye hemorrhages from ingesting too many blood thinning foods in conjunction with his prescription medication.

Interestingly, my relative was given a list of foods high in vitamin K so he would know what foods to limit so as not to reduce the effectiveness of his medication. However he was not given a list of foods that have their own anticoagulant properties, which if taken in conjunction with his medication could cause bleeding problems. He found some information on his own about blood thinning foods after he had the two eye hemorrhages.

Blood coagulation should fall within a desirable range. If it coagulates too easily, clots can form which in turn can lead to adverse health conditions such as heart attacks. If blood doesn't clot enough, conditions such as bleeding from the nose aka (nosebleeds or epistaxis), hemorrhages, hematuria (blood in the urine), heavy periods in women, and bleeding strokes may occur. If a person's blood isn't clotting enough and he has surgery or a traumatic event like a car accident, he could have a serious problem by losing too much blood from wounds or surgical incisions failing to clot properly.

Some of the foods that are generally thought to have natural blood thinning compounds are listed below. Please note that this is a hodge-podge list based on information I've collected over the years based on my own experiences, my assortment of alternative health books and internet research, so it's possible it may contain some errors. See your doctor before you implement any diet, supplement or exercise changes, especially if you are taking any prescription medications or have any health concerns related to coagulation.

Salicylates

One type of natural blood thinners are substances that block vitamin K known as salicylates. The most well known of these is aspirin, but many foods, such as preservatives and flavorings, also contain salicylates or aspirin-like substances. Some individuals are known to be aspirin or salicylate sensitive. I'm one of those salicylate sensitive types, but I have found that I can eat more salicylates as long as I eat a balanced amount of vitamin K foods. (Vitamin K plays an important role in the body's in blood clotting processes. The "K" in vitamin K gets its name from the Danish word for coagulation.)

Foods that are higher in salicylates include many spices, most fruits, especially dried fruits, nuts, and also some flavorings and preservatives.

  Ginger is known as a warming spice in both Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Herbs and spices high in salicylates include:

  • Curry powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Ginger
  • Paprika
  • Thyme
  • Cinnamon
  • Dill
  • Oregano
  • Turmeric
  • Licorice
  • Peppermint

In Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) many of the above spices are known as "warming spices". I think this is because by thinning the blood they increase a person's blood circulation, which in turn speeds up the metabolism and makes a person feel warmer.

My family was really cold one late evening at Disneyland, but as soon as we ate some churros we all warmed up. We did not know why at the time, but later realized it was because the churros were dipped in sugar with cinnamon, a spice high in blood thinning compounds and one of the key warming spices discussed frequently in Ayurvedic medicine.

One of my children has had trouble with night sweats, so we put him on a diet that, among other changes, limited the amount of salicylates he consumed. That seemed to help him stay much cooler at night.

Fruits high in salicylates include

  • Raisins
  • Prunes
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Tangerines
  • Oranges

Other substances high in salicylates:

  • Chewing gum
  • Honey
  • Peppermints
  • Vinegar
  • Wine
  • Cider

Though there are some exceptions, in general most meat, fish, dairy, grains and vegetable foods are not high in salicylates. Many types of fish do however have blood thinning properties due to their omega-3 fatty acid content, as noted below.

Chinese food is often prepared with many warming spices, such as ginger and garlic. One morning, after having Chinese food for dinner the night before, I was barefoot in the kitchen and stepped on a sharp pieces of glass from a broken glass storage bowl. The actual cut was very small, but the amount of blood loss was quite scary. I tried applying direct pressure to the wound but that didn't help. My foot only stopped bleeding after I ate a bowl of vitamin K rich lettuce.

A 2001 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found the salicylate content of organic foods to be higher than conventional foods. So if you are salicylate sensitive or have unexplained easy bleeding issues, you may want to experiment and see if you feel better by not eating organic foods.

 

Bleeding and Topical Creams

It is important to note that it isn't just what you eat that can thin your blood, but also what you rub on your skin. The New York Times reported in 2007 the death of a high school track star from an overdose of a commonly sold, over the counter sports medicine that contained methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate at high enough doses rubbed into the skin can act as an anti-clotting agent, which in turn may result in internal bleeding and related health issues.

 

I've received more than one email from my web site readers who developed bleeding problems after trying to consume large amounts of ripened berries from their gardens. They were trying to use up a bumper crop of a fruit like blueberries or strawberries and inadvertently thinned their blood from the unusually high berry consumption. One person had recently had surgery and his incision didn't heal properly until he stopped eating excessive amounts of berries.

Appendix 9 in this thesis paper by Anne Swain, has a chart of salicylates in foods and an example of a low salicylate diet.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antagonist to vitamin K. Some foods and topical substances these days are preserved with vitamin E, so it pays to read labels carefully. One of my sons, who otherwise has not had any unusual bleeding problems or easy bruising, developed a severe nose bleed from a hand sanitizer that had vitamin E used as a preservative. He woke up in the middle of the night one night with clots coming out of his nose, so I tried to think of what we had done differently that day as a possible cause. Then I remembered I had bought both kids a new hand sanitizing lotion at the local pharmacy, I checked the ingredients on the bottle and vitamin E was listed. So I gave him a lettuce salad to eat, which stopped the bleeding, and threw out the sanitizer. He has not had another nose bleed since that that day over ten years ago.

Foods high in vitamin E may not necessarily thin the blood, as many foods high in vitamin E, such as spinach and broccoli also contain significant amounts of vitamin K, which tends to clot the blood.

I was prescribed vitamin E supplements at one time by a doctor for fibrocystic breasts. Afterwards, I developed an increased number of bleeding and bruising problems, including menorrhagia. I did some research on my own and realized vitamin E could thin the blood. Most medical articles state that people have to take relatively large doses of vitamin E in order for it to have an effect on coagulation. However, I don't think that is true for everyone. For people like me who are easy bleeders, even small amounts of vitamin E can cause bleeding issues.

Vitamin B6?

This is just an anecdotal report based on my own experience, but I took a vitamin B6 supplement at one time and developed a really bad nose bleed shortly afterwards. The nose bleed stopped when I had a vitamin K rich salad, so I do think that the bleeding was from a lack of vitamin K and not other causes, such as trauma or high blood pressure. The vitamin B6 tablet was the only change I made in my usual diet and routine that day.

Interestingly, one of my health books noted that vitamin B6 lowers estrogen levels, and it is well established through medical studies that increased estrogen levels are linked to blood clots. As such, if vitamin B6 does lower estrogen levels, then it may make sense that it may also lower vitamin K levels and thin the blood. However, I have never found any studies noting this particular association, so at this time the link between vitamin B6 and thinner blood is just a hypothesis in my part based on information from my health books, my own experience and logical deduction.

Omega- 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have received a lot of press lately because of their ability to lower cholesterol levels and make the blood less prone to clotting. Fish oil is usually high in omega-3s and can be ingested either through purchasing capsules or by eating fatty fish. Fish with high amounts of omega-3s include:

  • Anchovies
  • Salmon
  • Albacore tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Lake Trout
  • Herring

A number of studies in recent years have found omega-3 fatty acids beneficial for anxiety and depression. When eating fish, one danger is that many fish have high mercury levels, so experts often have mixed recommendations on exactly just how healthy eating a lot of seafood is for most people.

The chart in this link to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency web site contains a table of mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish. Fish may be a great food for people who are at risk for blood clots, but for easy bleeders like me it is a food I need to limit, regardless of mercury levels.

  Garlic contains nine different, naturally occurring, antiplatelet compounds.

Additional Selected Foods With Compounds That Thin the Blood

  • Tree Ear
  • Jicama
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Olive Oil

Garlic and onions contain natural antibiotics that can kill the intestinal bacteria that manufacture vitamin K. Many studies have found that long term prescription antibiotic use can cause bleeding problems due to a vitamin K deficiency. However, for people like me who seem to always be short on vitamin K, even small amounts of foods with natural antibiotics properties, like garlic and onions, are problematic. I often avoid eating at Italian restaurants because of their liberal use of garlic. When I do eat Italian food, I also try to have have a salad with lots of leafy green vegetables high in vitamin K as a part of my meal.

James A. Duke, author of several books on herbal medicine, notes that garlic has nine different compounds that are antiaggregants (compounds that prevent the blood platelets from sticking together).

Alcohol

A study that appeared in the October, 2005 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that "Alcohol consumption is inversely associated with both platelet activation and aggregation." Another study, published in 1986 in the same journal, found signs of subclinical vitamin K deficiency in a study of 20 male alcoholics. Perhaps not coincidentally, the signs of fetal alcohol syndrome closely resemble the symptoms of vitamin K deficiency in newborns.

Based on my personal experience, I've noticed that red wine is an especially potent as a blood thinner. I had two glasses of red wine at a party a few years ago and started to have bleeding problems soon afterwards, including pain in one of my ovaries, which went away when I got home and ate some vitamin K rich foods.

Iron

There seems to be a yin-yang relationship between iron levels and blood coagulation. The following list includes a sampling of studies and articles that indicate when iron levels are high, platelet count is low and vice versa.

  • When people have iron deficiency anemia, their platelet counts usually increase.

  • Pubmed has a case study of a patient who overdosed on iron supplements. Following the overdose, "Vitamin K-dependent coagulation factors dropped within the next hours to very low levels. Thrombotest showed less than 3% of normal coagulation activity 8 h [sic] after oral intake."

  • A study published in Renal and Urology News noted that "iron lowers platelet counts."

  • The book, Hematology: Principles and Applications, notes that, "It is believed that iron plays some role in regulating thrombopoiesis because treatment of the iron deficiency with iron replacement has resulted in normalization of the platelets in patients with thrombocytopenic patients... ". (Thrombopoiesis means the process of blood clot formation.)

On a personal note, I developed iron deficiency anemia after going on a diet and eating a lot of vitamin K rich, coagulation inducing salads. My iron levels may well have been low before I went on the diet as anemia usually doesn't usually develop just overnight, but I think it was more than a coincidence that I only became symptomatic during my high vitamin K intake / salad phase. When I had my blood tested, during the times I was anemic my platelet count was out of range on the high side. My platelet count returned to normal levels again after I started taking iron pills and my iron deficiency anemia was corrected.

Exercise

Based on studies of female athletes, vigorous exercise seems to lower vitamin K levels. Women who are elite athletes, i.e. those who over exercise, instead of being healthy actually are at risk for hypoestrogenism, osteoporosis and vitamin K deficiency. Vitamin K is necessary to clot the blood, so by logical deduction then it may be prudent to consider the possibility that over exercising may thin the blood since it is known to lower levels of vitamin K.

At the other end of the spectrum, we know that people who remain stationary for long periods, such as people on bed rest, in car trips or travelers on long plane flights, are at risk for blood clots. One of my relatives developed a blood clot in his leg on a flight from Europe to the U.S. and had to have emergency surgery shortly after landing in the U.S.

By logical deduction then, the table below may illustrate the links between the conditions associated with remaining stationary and the conditions with over exercising, two conditions at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Remaining Stationary
<=>
Vigorous Exercising
     
Blood Clots
<=>

Vitamin K deficiency

Thinner blood

     
Higher estrogen levels
<=>
Low estrogen levels
     
Increased cancer risk
<=>
Decreased cancer risk

Table showing known links between exercise, estrogen levels, vitamin K, cancer and blood clotting.

Interestingly, a 2003 study from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center found that blood clots in obese people could be dissolved with regular exercise.

girl on a swing in bathed in sunshine
  Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because our bodies can produce it from the action of sunlight on the skin.

 

Sunshine / Vitamin D?

In Ayurvedic medicine, sunshine is supposed to be good for a person's circulation, which I've found usually means it also thins the blood. As noted above, other Ayurvedic remedies for improving circulation, such as cinnamon and ginger, have actually been proven in modern medical studies to be natural blood thinners. As such, it would be logical to consider the possibility that if Ayurvedic medicine scholars were correct about the spices thinning the blood, they may have been right about sunshine, too.

Interestingly, a recent medical study found that a "clinical trial of a biologically active metabolite of Vitamin D3 demonstrated an unanticipated reduction of thrombosis in cancer patients." Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that we can obtain in two ways: 1) through food; or 2) it can be synthesized by the body after exposure to sunshine.

I don't know if this means that sunshine would have the same impact on blood as the vitamin D from the study, but it is interesting food for thought. If sunshine is found to be a blood thinner, it would confirm what Ayurvedic practitioners have thought to be true for thousands of years.

Cancer and Blood Clots

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) cancer is often viewed as a symptom of a circulation problem. In modern, Western medicine, the common assumption is that cancer causes blood clots. But what if the TCM version is really the most accurate view, and the reality was that blood clots, or a lack of circulation from blood clots, caused cancer? Perhaps not coincidentally, many factors that studies show may decrease the risk of cancer also thin the blood. These include sunshine, exercise, aspirin, heparin (a prescription anticoagulant), antibiotics, olive oil, fish oil, turmeric, vitamin E and garlic. For more on this topic, see my article on breast cancer, blood clots and excess vitamin K levels.

Avoiding Foods that Clot the Blood

Foods that clot the blood include those high in vitamin K, especially leafy green vegetables, saturated fats, and cultured foods with live bacteria that synthesize vitamin K in the intestinal tract. For more on this topic see my section: Foods and Environmental Factors That Cause the Blood to Clot

Summary

It is well known that foods that elevate vitamin K levels, such as lettuce and dandelion greens, may clot the blood. People who are taking anticoagulants are often warned to limit these types of foods so they don't counteract the effectiveness of their medicine.

However, it is often overlooked that many foods and environmental factors, especially those that lower vitamin K levels, may thin the blood. This information may be important for people on anticoagulants to be aware of in order to prevent their blood from becoming too thin.

Some people, like me, have genetic disorders that make us easy bleeders. However I have found that by controlling my diet by monitoring how much of the foods listed above I consume, I can usually keep my bleeding problems well under control.


 

 

 

Related sections of interest:

Foods That May Thin the Blood - Vitamin E, salicylates, garlic, olive oil, onions and more

Health Conditions Linked to Vitamin K Deficiency

Foods and Environmental Factors That Cause the Blood to Clot

Frequently Asked Questions: Is there a link between nose bleeds and eating Chinese food?

Nose bleeds: Overlooked Causes of Epistaxis

Menorrhagia: Often Overlooked Causes of Heavy Menstrual Bleeding

Ovarian Pain from Vitamin K Deficiency

Natural treatment for ovarian cysts

 

Selected Sources:

1. Murray, M. and Pizzorno, J. (1998). Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Rocklin, California: Prima Publishing.

2. Carper, J. (1988). The Food Pharmacy. New York: Banam Books

3. Hausman, P. & Benn Hurley, J. (1989). The Healing Foods. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press

4. Duke, J.A. (1997). The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press

 

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