Blood clotting problems

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The blood and blood vessels have a difficult balancing act. On the one hand if a blood vessel is broken you want the blood to clot quickly and efficiently before you bleed uncontrollably! On the other hand you do not want blood clotting as it circulates round the body.

The role of vitamin K

Vitamin K is a complete star in getting this balance right. It has the astonishing ability to inhibit clotting when blood vessels are intact and promote clotting when they are broken - just what is required. Vitamin K is not just one vitamin, but a range of related substances. It is still not certain which vitamin K does which job and so the secret is to eat them all. They are found in green leafy vegetables - so eat up! More importantly, vitamin K is synthesised in the gut by friendly bacteria - more reason to take probiotics and eat a Ketogenic diet - the practical details rich in prebiotics. See Kefir. Please see also My book The PK Cookbook - Go Paleo-ketogenic and get the best of both worlds.

Vitamin K deficiency

Sadly, vitamin K deficiency is pandemic - in UK all babies have to be injected with vitamin K at birth to prevent haemorrhagic disease of the new born. This means their mothers must also be deficient!

The commonest problem resulting from this deficiency is too much clotting (sticky blood). If this occurs on a sticky arteriosclerotic plaque, a thrombus forms which breaks off to get stuck further along the arterial tree. If it gets stuck in the head it causes a stroke, if it gets stuck in the heart you get a heart attack and in the leg, ischaemia and possible gangrene.

Also see Vitamin K, which further explains how vitamin K works for blood vessels.


Antiphospholipid antibodies increase clotting tendency. Typically this presents in women with recurrent miscarriage.

Inborn error

Having the wrong genes can increase risk of thrombosis. Typically this manifests in women on the Pill or HRT. The commonest problem is factor V Leiden and factor 11 prothrombin gene.

Avoiding sticky blood

Sticky blood can be caused by:

  • Smoking
  • The Pill and HRT - these contain synthetic hormone analogues which increase the risk of thrombosis
  • Anticardiolipin antibodies. People testing positive for this need a second opinion from a cardiologist to see if they need long term anticoagulation with warfarin. If there have been previous thrombotic or embolic events (such as pulmonary embolus, transient ischaemic attacks, myocardial infarction, stroke etc), then they may need warfarin for life.

OR sticky lining to blood vessels

  • Atrial fibrillation -the lining of the heart does not move normally, so blood within is turbulent and so more likely to clot
  • Allergy. Professor Bill Rea has shown how patients with chemical sensitivity react with inflammation in the lining of blood vessels. Inflammation causes sticky linings and therefore possible clotting. See Interview with Professor Bill Rea
  • Toxic stress. Heavy metals, VOCs and pollutants inhaled from polluting industry will end up in blood vessels and cause inflammation. Inflammation causes endothelial damage and sticky lining.

Patients with a history of thrombosis or who are in atrial fibrillation may need warfarin for life. I suspect why the dose of warfarin is so variable (anything from 1mg to 10mgs) has to do with vitamin K - those people with good gut flora who can make lots of vitamin K need higher doses!

Low dose aspirin has long been advocated to protect against clotting, but it does cause an increased risk of bleeding. Micro-bleeds in the brain may not be noticed, but collectively over time would slowly destroy the brain and result in Alzheimer's. A post mortem study of people taking aspirin or NSAIs showed that nearly 20% had bleeding from the gut. I no longer advocate low dose aspirin without good reason!

Any possible benefits of aspirin can be achieved by eating vegetables and berries. These are rich in natural salicylates but do not cause the side effects of aspirin.

Some natural foods also inhibit clotting and explain why some groups of people are protected from thrombosis. These foods include fish (especially oily fish), garlic (great! I always need an excuse to eat this!) and red wine in modest amounts.

Prevention and treatment of sticky blood

Identify and tackle any of the above

Ketogenic diet - the practical details rich in fish. More often I now prescribe the ketogenic diet - please see Ketogenic diet - the practical details and My book The PK Cookbook - Go Paleo-ketogenic and get the best of both worlds. Additional fish oil is an excellent idea but do make sure it is clean - ie has been filtered through activated charcoal. This is to reduce the levels of mercury and pesticides which now build up in fish, especially carnivorous fish at the top of the food chain! Probiotics and Kefir to ensure good levels of vitamin K.

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