In recent months, an increasing number of reports have surfaced about blood clots linked to AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. Some countries have temporarily or permanently suspended its use entirely, while others have restricted their use to older age groups. This is because younger people, women in particular, are at the greatest risk for developing blood clots. However, it has even led to stroke in a few cases, so is any age group truly safe?
The silver lining to these dangerous incidents is that they draw attention to the risk of inappropriate blood clotting. It’s not always an issue for older adults, and regardless of age, blood clot prevention is worthwhile. So what can you do to minimize excessive clotting, one of the most important stroke risk factors?
Blood Clot Types: Which Are Stroke Risk Factors?
There are several types of inappropriate blood clots, categorized depending on where they form in the body:
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is when a clot forms in one of the major, or deep veins, in the limbs or pelvis. This can break off and wedge itself in the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. Up to 100,000 people in the USA die from pulmonary embolism every year.
- Venous blood clots can also come from restricted blood flow, damage to the veins, or oral contraceptives that contain estrogen and progesterone. These increase production of fibrinogen, which is involved in blood clotting. Pregnant women are also at a much higher risk of venous clots.
- Most clotting in the arteries is a complication of atherosclerosis, where artery-hardening plaques rupture and blood clots form to repair them. These commonly lodge in the heart or brain, resulting in a heart attack or stroke. Roughly half of all deaths in Western countries are caused by atherosclerosis.
Blood Clot Prevention Tips
The best way to deal with any of the above issues is to prevent them from happening. If you have more stroke risk factors than average, or birth control blood clots are a concern, prevention is all the more important.
Here are five ways you can start reducing your risk of excess clotting:
- Checking your homocysteine levels and genetic variants could be essential for blood clot prevention. Homocysteine builds up when methylation is impaired, which is a key reaction in many of the body’s functions. In one analysis, every five umol/L increase in homocysteine was linked to a 27 or 60 percent higher risk of venous thrombosis. This depended on the study type but was still significant. Certain gene variants were associated with a greater thrombosis risk too, if they were not compensated for by dietary folate or vitamin B2.
- Another B vitamin that may be protective is niacin, or vitamin B3. Niacin has been shown to reduce fibrinogen by 13.5 percent, as well as raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. Fibrinogen is increased by higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, so niacin is worth trying if you take female hormones. Sometimes, COVID-19 infection raises fibrinogen too, including its spike protein.
- Natto, a traditional Japanese fermented soy food, is very much an acquired taste. Part of the fermentation byproducts is the enzyme nattokinase, made by Bacillus subtilis. A study on nattokinase alone found significant reductions in fibrinogen among healthy volunteers, and those with cardiovascular disease or on dialysis.
- Another preventive remedy for inappropriate blood clots is turmeric. Lab studies have shown that curcumin, the main active phytochemical of turmeric, inhibits blood clotting. It inhibits thrombin generation in the cells, which converts fibrinogen to the more active fibrin. Daily consumption is best, and because curcumin is poorly absorbed, we advise that you combine turmeric with a fat source and black pepper.
- Fresh, raw garlic may also help protect you if you are at risk of excessive clotting. In a study where treated participants ate 10 grams of raw garlic every day for two months, they had significantly longer clotting time and more breakdown of already-formed clots. While this is no substitute for emergency medical intervention, it could help nip problems in the bud.
Avoiding Birth Control Blood Clots
One of the potential pitfalls of hormonal birth control is an increased risk of blood clots with many products, but there are safer options. Natural means of birth control include the Billings method, where cervical mucus is monitored for signs of ovulation, and the sympto-thermal method, where body temperature is monitored too. The theory is that avoiding intercourse around these days will prevent conception. These are not perfect, and do require commitment.
An Australian study found that 45 percent of women using the Billings method alone became pregnant during a two-year period. With the sympto-thermal method, 35-39 percent got pregnant. However, a larger international study that categorized pregnancy by cause showed that under three percent of women experienced method-related failure. Many just did not follow the guidelines for various reasons. You can also combine condoms, which are over 90 percent effective when used correctly, with these rhythmic methods.
You don’t necessarily have to give up hormonal birth control either; changing your method may be enough. A study on non-oral birth control found that the levonorgestrel intra-uterine device (IUD) did not put women at risk of blood clots. On the other hand, the Depo shot was linked to a 3.6 times higher risk of venous blood clots. The IUD is a set-and-forget method, which you keep for several years, and provides more peace of mind than taking a pill every day.
Staying Safe From Unwanted Clots
Excessive blood clotting and a dash of bad luck is a devastating combination. In this current world, where risks of pharmaceutical treatments are not fully disclosed, blood clot prevention is essential. It’s one of your most important stroke risk factors to consider. Of course, if you are vulnerable to excessive bleeding, any of the above measures could be unsafe for you, so always consult a trusted healthcare professional first.
Alexandra Preston is an Australian naturopath, passionate about empowering others to take charge of their health and healing the planet. Her special area of interest in natural health is antiaging; she also loves the beach and is a semi-professional dancer.
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