An employee of ours was recently hospitalized for a blood clot in her leg, otherwise known as DVT (deep vein thrombosis). She is 36 years old and a smoker. Fortunately the clot did not break off and travel to her lungs which can be life threatening. We call this a pulmonary embolism and more than 200,000 people in the US die from it.
On average, you have a 1 in 20 chance of getting a DVT over a lifetime. This equates to about 2 million Americans annually. Not all those blood clots break free, although more than half a million Americans end up in the hospital to treat either the clot or a pulmonary embolism.
We don’t really know what causes DVT, but there are factors that increase your risk. Powerful calf, quad and hamstring muscles surround the veins in your legs. The action of these muscles pumps blood back to the heart. When we sit or lie still for a long time, blood may pool in the legs, providing an opportunity to congeal or clot. Traveling for long periods, especially in airplanes poses a problem, so its best to get up and move your legs about every 2 hours. Those who are bed ridden such as people in nursing homes are also at higher risk. Pregnant women are 5 times more likely to develop DVT, because the body increases the blood’s tendency to clot to prevent excessive bleeding during childbirth. Smoking increases your risk of clots. The estrogen in birth-control pills, patches or rings also facilitates clotting and puts women at 3 to 6 times higher risk then women not on these hormones. The Factor V Leiden gene (which you can get tested for) predisposes you to DVT as well. Finally, researcher and doctor William Rea in the 1970’s suggested that toxins in the environment, such as pesticides, household cleaners and allergenic foods, might play a role in causing blood clots in some people. Why not…they seem to effect our bodies in so many other negative ways.
Blood clots in the veins can strike without warning, even in top athletes at any age. These are the warning signs:
-Pain or tenderness in the leg, especially the calf
-Shortness of breath (if the clot travels to the lungs)
-A change in skin color, either a red or bluish tint (Due to poor oxygenated blood)
-swelling of the leg
The standard treatment options are not the best or the safest. An anticoagulant such as Heparin or a heparin-derivative called Lovenox is injected followed by 6 months or more of an oral-anticoagulant called Coumadin. Coumadin is notoriously difficult to manage with each patient absorbing and processing it differently depending on their physiology, levels of exercise, stress and diet. An essential component of blood clotting is Vitamin K which can interfere with Coumadin. That means foods like green leafy vegetables, green peppers, tea, and canola oil must be closely monitored or avoided. Cranberry juice due to its high flavonoid content, inhibit enzymes that break down Coumadin. This drug can also cause osteoporosis by interfering with a protein vital for bone formation. So the stakes are high; too little of the drug and the clots return; to much, and internal hemorrhaging may result. Regular blood tests are taken, sometimes weekly, and the numbers can be all over the place! Once the clots are gone, it doesn’t mean they will not return. So how can we prevent them?
On the natural front is a supplement called Nattokinase. This is an enzyme found in soy shown to help dissolve blood clots. Several studies with animals and one with humans in the journal “Haematologica” showed a reduction in clots when taken three times a day. Another study that combined nattokinase with pycnogenol (an extract of pine bark that improves circulation) showed a reduction in blood clots among airline passengers on transatlantic flights. Dr. Martin Milner, ND, medical director of the Center for Natural Medicine in Portland Oregon, uses nattokinase with a combination of other nutraceuticals such as omega-3 fatty acids, bromelain (an anti-inflammatory), and ginkgo biloba.
The dosage of nattokinase and other supplements is based on blood tests determining clotting ability. Patients often begin with several hundred milligrams per day, but the amount can vary widely among people. Make sure to consult with a wholistic practitoner. As far as the woman in our office…she’s doing fine and still on Coumadin, but interested in trying these other options for prevention.