Top Tips for Improving Blood Viscosity
- Blood viscosity is linked to high blood pressure to autoimmune illnesses, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and even cancer.
- Many doctors don’t think of blood viscosity when evaluating patients.
- It’s likely that many Americans suffer from a low-grade chronic “hyperviscosity” or coagulation disorder, contributing to the high rates of cardiovascular disease and many of the maladies of aging.
- Fortunately, there are many natural options for improving blood flow.
by Dr. John Neustadt
High blood pressure is such a huge risk for heart disease and stroke that it’s called the “silent killer.” Often it has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people don’t even know they have it. When it comes to blood pressure, two main components determine whether or not it starts to creep up. One is decreased blood vessel elasticity. The other is increased blood viscosity.
Each topic is large enough and important enough that they deserve their own blogs. I encourage you after reading this one, to read the other blog, Anti-Age Your Blood Vessels and put into practice the recommendations from each blog to get the maximum benefit. Both blogs give concise recommendations about what you can do to naturally maintain healthy blood pressure.
There’s a famous saying, “Blood is thicker than water”, that hints at the power of family ties. But when blood gets too thick, it can create lethal blood clots, increase your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Moment by moment your blood transports to every cell all the nutrients and molecules essential to your health and life, from immune cells to oxygen to sugars and fats, hormones, vitamins, minerals and more. It does this at almost lightning speed. Your blood makes a full cycle around the body, from the massive arteries down to the tiniest capillaries and back—in a mere forty-five seconds.1
The thickness of blood determines how easily it flows through your body. This thickness is called “blood viscosity.” The higher the viscosity, the more difficult it is for blood to circulate, and the harder it is for cells and tissues to get the nutrients they need and to eliminate the cellular waste they generate. Blood viscosity is tied to far more conditions than one might suppose, including high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and cancer.2 Fortunately, there are many natural options you can use to improve blood viscosity and flow.
Thicker Blood is Stickier Blood
Blood is a complex mixture of water and cells (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets), proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, other nutrients and cellular waste being transported for elimination by the kidneys, liver and lungs. Oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood is pumped by the heart through arteries to tissues and cells throughout the body. When it reaches the cells, it drops off its oxygen, picks up cellular waste and returns to the heart through veins. Oxygen-rich blood is red, which gives the arteries their bright red color. Oxygen-poor blood is a darker almost purplish color, which gives the veins their blue color.
Blood viscosity refers to the blood’s thickness. Thicker blood is stickier blood, which make it harder for the blood to travel through the arteries and veins. As a result, the heart has to worker harder to circulate the same amount of blood. When that happens, it puts stress on the heart, puts stress on arteries and veins and increases your blood pressure and risk for dangerous blood clots, strokes and heart attacks.
Many factors contribute to blood viscosity. Chronic free-radical stress and inflammation, smoking, dehydration, increased fibrinogen and other factors and conditions increase blood viscosity.3
Fibrinogen is a blood protein involved in forming blood clots. Elevated fibrinogen increases blood viscosity and the risk for dangerous blood clots.4 If you want to know if your fibrinogen is high, you can ask your healthcare provider for a fibrinogen test.
Or to save time and money, order your fibrinogen test directly through NBI. We supply the doctor’s order. Your lab requisition form is ready within seconds of checking out. You then simply take the lab test order form into one of our more than 2,000 testing centers around the country for your blood draw. Results are ready within days by email (if you opt-in to receiving results by email) or simply by logging into your NBI account to view them.
As blood viscosity increases, we are at risk for high blood pressure as well as blood clots, which can lead to strokes and deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Blood that is too ‘thick’ cannot adequately nourish organs and tissue, and can lead to dysfunction of various tissues, from the eyes to the lungs and more. Maintaining healthy blood viscosity is important.
Yet many doctors don’t think of blood viscosity when evaluating patients. Hyperviscosity syndrome, as it’s called, is a well-known complication in certain types of cancer.5 Hyperviscosity can occur in conjunction with sickle cell anemia6, polycythemia (a condition where there are excessive red blood cells)7, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis8, diabetes9 and even depression.10
It’s likely that many Americans suffer from a low-grade chronic “hyperviscosity” or coagulation disorder, contributing to the high rates of cardiovascular disease and many of the maladies of aging.
Tips for Improving Viscosity and Flow
Exercise is an excellent way to improve blood viscosity, blood flow and blood pressure.11 Exercise modifies and improves many conditions linked to hyperviscosity, including diabetes and pre-diabetes, elevated fibrinogen (a blood protein involved in forming blood clots), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides and more.12,13
Many types of exercise are helpful, so you’ve got options. When athletes ran 10 kilometers, their blood viscosity dropped.14 But you don’t have to be a super jock to get benefits. Going for regular brisk walks can also help. Women (65-74 years old) with Type 2 Diabetes who did a brisk walk for a total of 120 minutes per week (about 17 minutes per day) saw their blood viscosity, blood pressure, fibrinogen and cholesterol all significantly improve.15
The regular practice of yoga has a beneficial effect on blood flow and whole blood viscosity too. When 23 sedentary adults and 19 regular yoga practitioners were examined, those who practiced yoga had significantly lower whole blood viscosity.16
Plant-based diets—rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits—have been shown to reduce blood viscosity and improve arterial flexibility and blood flow. Plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids that help reduce inflammation, as well.17
Pine Bark Extract
Pine bark extract is well known for its ability to support cardiovascular health. It promotes healthy blood pressure, reduces inflammation and increases levels of the ‘good’ cholesterol, HDL.18 An analysis of twenty-four studies including nearly 1600 individuals found that pine bark extract significantly improved LDL and HDL cholesterol, as well as systolic and diastolic blood pressure.19
Pine bark extract supports healthy circulation by promoting healthy blood clotting.20 Two clinical trials evaluated the effects pine bark extract alone and in combination with nattokinase have on blood clotting and circulation.
In the pine bark extract-only study, in 2004 in Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis, 211 volunteers also on long flights, were randomized to take pine bark extract or placebo. No blood clots were detected in those taking pine bark extract, while one person not taking the nutrient experienced a DVT and four others had superficial blood clots.21
The study in which pine bark extract and nattokinase were combined is discussed in the Nattokinase section, below.
Nattokinase is an enzyme found in the Japanese food natto and in dietary supplements. It dissolves the blood clotting protein fibrinogen and reduces blood viscosity.22 Nattokinase offers a natural means of supporting healthy blood clotting. It’s similar to our own natural clot dissolving enzyme, called plasmin.23,24
In studies, nattokinase has been shown to reduce the formation of blood clots (antithrombotic), lower blood pressure (antihypertensive), thin the blood (anticoagulant) and is also neuroprotective.25 It’s more potent than garlic, bromelain or ginseng, all of which have known blood-thinning properties.26 Overall, nattokinase is a powerful food-based substance with potent protective effects on the cardiovascular system.27
In a randomized, controlled study published in 2003 in the journal Angiology, 204 volunteers flying on a seven- to eight-hour flight (New York to London or London to New York) took pine nattokinase plus pine bark extract. Sitting for long periods of time is a risk for blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In volunteers who were not taking the combination of nutrients, 7.6% of them experienced blood clots versus none of those taking the nutrients.28 In other words, healthy circulation was supported in 100% of people taking the nutrients. Additionally, compared to those not taking the nutrients, people taking nattokinase and pine bark extract decreased leg swelling by 27%, which indicated improved circulation.
NB’s NattoPine dietary supplement was formulated based on the results of this clinical trial. Each serving of NattoPine provides 182.5 mg (3650 fibrinolytic units) nattokinase and 300 mg of pine bark extract, which were the doses of nutrients used in the study.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish and fish oils are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They have repeatedly shown the ability to reduce triglycerides, blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.29 Fish oil can help prevent blood clots and decrease factors in the blood that tend to cause clotting.30,31
Many other foods, herbs and nutraceuticals can help thin blood and modulate blood flow—these range from tea to tomatoes to gingko biloba and more.
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