Do Any Herbal Supplements Thin Your Blood?
The short answer to this question is actually, no. I find it very disturbing that many of the so-called experts who write health books have virtually no knowledge of the biochemistry of the human body and thus have no idea of its complexity. They usually wrongfully conclude that if a substance increases blood flow then it must do so by thinning the blood. This could not be farther from the truth.
The human body does not like to lose blood and your arteries contain sticky colorless irregularly shaped bodies, called platelets that go into action when the skin is broken and the body is exposed to air. They gather at the wound and along with calcium, Vitamin K and a protein called fibrinogen, they form a clot to stop the bleeding. These clots are also known as scabs. Sometimes, internal blood clots are formed in response to some trauma to the body that does not break the skin and you get a bruise, or black-and-blue mark, which is the result of an internal blood clot. When a blood clot forms inside a blood vessel, it can block the flow of blood, cutting off the supply of oxygen. If this happens in your brain, it is called a stroke. If it happens inside a main artery supplying blood to your heart, a heart attack will result.
Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) inhibits the ability of the blood platelets to aggregate or stick together. The purpose is to prevent blood clots in the arteries and thus aspirin is truly a blood thinner. Plavix (clopidogel bisulphate) is a prescription drug that does exactly what aspirin does at about 100 times the price. Because aspirin reduces platelet aggregation and can actually cause ulceration of the stomach, it would only be available on prescription if it were discovered today.
Coumadin (warfarin), or as some people call it, rat poison is the main drug used to thin your blood and prevent heart attacks and strokes. It works by inhibiting the synthesis of vitamin K and clotting factors and in a different way prevents your blood from forming clots. Coumadin is also a very difficult drug for your liver to detoxify, and people on this drug must be very careful of taking other medications with it, especially Tylenol (acetaminophen) remedies. These drugs and other drugs in their class are the true blood thinners and there are not any herbs that work in this fashion. The following, however, have all been labeled blood thinners in at least one or two health books.
White willow bark contains salicylates, which are less than 1/10th the potency of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) and its affect on blood platelet aggregation is so minimal it cannot even be measured.
Niacin causes an increase in blood flow and even flushing sometimes but it does this by dilating the arteries. This expansion of the arteries results in a large temporary increase in blood flow, which does not last as the arteries eventually return to their original size. Gingko biloba works exactly in the same manner and if taken on an empty stomach, break down and start their action very early and dilate the blood vessels going upward toward your face and brain. This increase in upward blood flow to your ears helps treat balance, dizziness and, in some cases, ear conditions like tinitis. The increase in blood flow to your brain helps short-term memory.
Co-Q10 is a unique enzyme in our bodies that lowers resistance to blood flow. Through a series of chemical reactions, it smoothes out the walls of the arteries and when there is less resistance to the flow of the blood, more is pumped through and more oxygen is delivered. It works primarily in the arteries that supply blood to your heart.
Garlic is a substance that does not increase blood flow but like hawthorn, lowers intracellular pressure and thus it is effective in maintaining a lower blood pressure. It has no activity on your platelets and does not thin your blood.
Vitamin E is an excellent anti-oxidant which increases the efficiency of the hemoglobin in your red cells to pick up extra molecules of oxygen. It thus oxygenates your blood or makes it richer and delivers this extra oxygen to the muscles of the body, primarily your heart muscle and your brain.
Most physicians are just as ignorant and they also assume that if a supplement causes an increase in blood flow, it must do so by reducing platelet aggregation. That is why they usually tell you to stop all your supplements before any type of surgical procedure. Even though they may give you Coumadin, which has huge side effects and could result in unstoppable external bleeding, they ask you to stop your Vitamin E and Co Q10.
If you are taking a blood thinner, do not be frightened by the health gurus who warn you about the blood thinning properties of herbs. H
owever if you stop them for a few days because your surgeon or hospital says so, you will certainly not be at risk.
Always be a wise consumer and do not believe everything you read. Get second and third opinions, do research on your own, and then make an informed decision about the supplements that you decide to take.