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It's safe to say that all of you want to know how to avoid blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks. These are some of the most life-threatening health problems there are. If you want to live a healthy and long life, you should try your best to avoid them.
The problem is, there are many misconceptions out there on what causes blood clots. If you can, write down what you think is the main risk factor of clots. What should you avoid? Is it a food or activity (or lack thereof)? Write down what you think it is. I think you'll be shocked at the end to find what the actual problem is—and it's most likely not what you wrote down.
In this article:
- Understanding Clots, Strokes, and Heart Attacks
- What Causes Blood Clotting?
- How to avoid blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks
- Final thoughts
Understanding Clots, Strokes, and Heart Attacks
Blood clotting, heart attacks, strokes, and even pulmonary embolisms all have to do with one thing—the disruption of normal blood flow(1). Your body is made up of a network of arteries, veins, and other blood vessels. This network is known as your circulatory system. At the center is of the circulatory system is your heart.
Your circulatory system supplies blood, oxygen, and nutrients to all of your organs. If your blood doesn't flow properly, the whole body can be affected. Most often, plaque or a blood clot is the cause of this disruption(2).
When plaque builds up in your blood vessels, it narrows your arteries and obstructs blood flow. At any time, plaque can rupture and cause a blood clot, also known as a thrombus(3).
In arteries that supply the heart, plaque and blood clots can cause atherosclerosis (artery disease), coronary heart disease, and heart attack(4). As you may already know, these conditions can cause severe symptoms, including chronic or acute chest pain, fatigue, fainting, and even death(5).
In the arteries that supply the brain, plaque and blood clots increase stroke risk(6). Strokes are sometimes considered brain attacks because they closely resemble heart attacks in mechanism and severity of symptoms(7). Similar to heart attacks, strokes cut off the blood flow to a part of the brain, and the tissue begins to starve. A stroke can cause brain damage, dementia, loss of sight, paralysis, and more(8). A mini-stroke is similar. However, the symptoms can resolve within 24 hours(9).
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a type of clot that is formed vein that is deep within the body. Most often, a DVT blockage is formed in leg veins(10). DVT can be painful as well as life-threatening if the clot moves through the bloodstream and into the lungs, which is known as a pulmonary embolism or a pulmonary embolus(11).
All of these plaque and clot-related diseases can be very serious. In fact, heart disease, which is caused by plaque, is the world's number one killer(12).
What Causes Blood Clotting? (Did you get it right?)
There are five primary elements that make up a blood clot or thrombus: fibrin, platelets, red blood cells, cholesterol, and white blood cells(13). So if you were to extract a blood clot and analyze it, these would be the things that you'd find. What's more important is how much of each makes up a clot. Take a look:
- Fibrin - 65%
- Platelets - 20%
- Red blood cells - 10%
- Cholesterol - 4%
- White blood cells - 1%
Now, at the beginning of the article, I asked you to write down what you thought was the largest risk factor for blood clots. Many people believe that the primary risk factor is having high cholesterol, or eating cholesterol-heavy foods (14). This is 100% not true—even though this may be what you've ben told all your life.
The real cause of artery clotting may be something called plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1). PAI-1 is an enzyme inhibitor(17). Let me explain why this is a problem. Blood clots are continually being dissolved and formed. There is an antithrombotic enzyme in your blood supply called tissue plasmogen activator (TPA)(18).
TPA starts a chain reaction in the blood that dissolves clots. First, it converts plasmogen (another blood protein) into an enzyme called plasmin. In turn, plasmin dissolves fibrin, which is the primary protein that makes up clots(19).
PAI-1 blocks this chain reaction and prevents TPA from dissolving plaque and blood clots. So instead of TPA dissolving clots and plaque before they become a problem by clogging up blood vessels, the clots continue to build and build. This is what may lead to things like heart attack, stroke, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), atherosclerosis, pulmonary embolism, and other ischemic events(20).
The key is to reduce your levels of PAI-1—not cholesterol(21).
How to avoid blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks
Now that you know what the problem is, how can you help prevent this problem from happening? Well, there are several things that trigger PAI-1 (which you want less of). Take a look:
Glucose - high blood glucose levels boost PAI-1 levels and promote clots(22). The number one reason many people have high blood glucose is because of consuming carbohydrates (which turn into sugar)(23). That's why a ketogenic or low-carb diet can help you get your glucose under control(24). Another thing you can do to lower blood glucose is to exercise regularly(25).
Insulin - Although insulin is a very important hormone in small amounts, too much is a very bad thing. Insulin boosts PAI-1 levels, which increases your heart attack and stroke risk(26). One of the best ways to help avoid this is going on a keto diet(27). Low carb and low-sugar diets have proven to help lower insulin levels in people with obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and polycystic ovary syndrome(28). Apple cider vinegar is also great for helping to keep insulin levels under control(29).
Cortisol - When you get stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is vital for regulating numerous bodily functions. Like anything, too much isn't a good thing. Most often, chronic stress and unhealthy eating are the causes of high cortisol levels(30). If you can maintain a healthy keto diet and also practice mindfulness and meditation, you'll likely have lower cortisol levels(31).
Estrogen - Like insulin and cortisol, estrogen is a hormone which can bring on adverse side effects in large amounts(32). To lower high estrogen levels, you could start by avoiding foods that are high in estrogen(33). Many animals are fed soy feed, which contains high amounts of estrogen. Then, this is passed on to you. Always use grass-fed and organic animal products(34). Another way to reduce estrogen is to consume estrogen-lowering foods. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mushrooms, red grapes, seeds, and green tea are great for this(35).
Final thoughts on avoiding clots, strokes, and heart attacks
You may have noticed a theme here: stay away from carbs and sugar, exercise, and eat healthy organic and grass-fed foods. Even though a family history of stroke, heart attack, and clots can increase your risk, these things may matter far more(36). If you can clean these up, not only will you likely reduce your PAI-1 levels, you may also help reduce your risk of high blood pressure (37). As you may know, blood pressure levels also have a significant impact on artery function(38).
When possible, consider giving natural remedies a try before or along with traditional medications, but always talk to your doctor first. Anticoagulants (blood-thinning medications) are often prescribed for disorders such as heart attack, stroke, pulmonary embolism, and other embolus-related problems(39). The problem with anticoagulants (like rivaroxaban, apixaban, and warfarin) is that they can reduce blood clotting too much.
Not all blood clotting is bad. If you have a cut, your blood needs to clot in order to stop the bleeding. If your blood is too thin as a symptom of anticoagulants, even the smallest cut can create excessive bleeding(40).
Consider working on healthy habits that drive down your PAI-1 levels, so it doesn't block TPA, which helps to naturally dissolve blood clots(41).
I hope you find these tips useful. Give them a try and see how they work for you.