Hydrate. Drinking water seems the solution to so many problems. Need to lose weight? Have some water. Concerned about premature aging or dry skin? Moisturize from the inside with H2O. Still, the notion that drinking water will thin your blood while reducing heart disease seems fantastic.
Honey and motor oil are viscous. These liquids are thick and sticky. So is blood––which we all know is thicker than water. Motor oils with less viscosity are easier on your engine. They also make it easier to start your car on frosty winter mornings. Blood with less viscosity is easier on your heart. Thinner blood also lowers the chance of suffering a stroke.
Atrial fibrillation (an irregular, rapid heartbeat) can lead to blood clots. Clots often cause strokes. Blood thinners cut this risk in half. Unfortunately, anticoagulants have serious side effects. “Most drugs are used to improve how patients feel or function…” explains the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Ellis F. Unger, M.D. “When treatment is successful, patients dramatically reduce their risk of experiencing a stroke, but the drugs don’t improve the symptoms of atrial fibrillation. So patients don’t feel any noticeable benefit while taking them. But they are well aware of the downside of the drugs—their inconvenience, bleeding side effects, and cost.”
Trading side effect-laden blood thinners for water would be ideal. The question is will this work?
Nearly 20 years ago, cardiologist Kenneth R. Kensey released The Blood Thinner Cure. In the book, he described simple solutions to the developed world’s biggest killer. Dr. Kensey believed heart disease could be prevented by following seven guidelines. Four are common-sense solutions. He advised a healthy diet to reduce the amount of blood thickening, low-density lipoprotein or LDL –– the so-called “bad” cholesterol. Exercising, reducing stress, and not smoking would also thin the blood. So far, so good. Pretty much every heart specialist recommends the same. So does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kensey also advised taking a low dose of aspirin every day. While this was standard advice in the early 2000’s, today it comes coupled with a caveat. Aspirin may be a miracle drug. It can lower fevers, reduce inflammation, and, of course, deal with that pounding headache. Because it thins the blood, it is linked to a reduced risk for heart attacks or strokes. However, as the FDA notes, it does not seem to work in people with healthier hearts and blood vessels. Aspirin is not benign. It can cause brain or stomach bleeding. Anyone considering daily aspirin therapy is advised to consult a doctor.
Kensey’s sixth and seventh bits of advice still sound revolutionary. As part of a heart-healthy regiment, he advised regular blood donations. He wrote that the good feeling donors get from helping others was coupled with thinning of the blood. On the surface, this actually makes sense. The clear fluid called plasma holds a whole host of material––not only our red and white blood cells but platelets, proteins, nutrients, hormones, and lots more. Still, as much as half of its volume comes from those red blood cells. This is where blood’s viscosity can be found. Blood fats (like LDLs) smoking, diabetes, and many other platelet-linked illnesses all cause red blood cell viscosity. Thicker blood is often seen in heart attack and stroke survivors. Donating reduces viscosity because it takes red blood cells out of circulation. The body creates new red blood cells. However, the benefits are very short-term.
So, how does water fare as a blood thinner? Around the time of The Blood Thinner Cure’s publication, a study of some 20,000 men and women discovered reduced fatal coronary heart disease events among those who drank at least five glasses of water per day––even when adjusting for other factors like age, smoking, or high blood pressure. While widely cited, there are few comparable, recent studies.
Consuming large amounts of water has faced its own backlash. Most of us know the 8-8 rule of drinking eight eight-ounce glasses of water daily. Unfortunately, there’s little research to back up its health benefits. It was popularized as part of a weight loss program but drinking lots of water probably won’t help you lose weight. Unless you are an Arizonan athlete you don’t need all that water. Your body doesn’t really discriminate. Fruits and vegetables, milk, coffee, tea, soda––even beer––stave off dehydration. Of course, beer, milk, and soda offer fairly empty calories, so water is the best no-calorie option. If we are discussing dehydration only, though, water is not the only solution. Still, for people over aged 65, dehydration is a common reason for hospital admittance. Clearly moderate water consumption has benefits all its own.
Does water work as a blood thinner? Unfortunately there is just not enough evidence to recommend chugging aqua as a replacement for blood thinners. It seems more likely that improved blood thinners with fewer side effects will hit the market rather than water becoming a miracle cure. Turns out, alcohol has similar qualities. While every study about red wine’s benefits seems contradicted by a different study, alcohol of any type can thin the blood. So raise a glass to your health––in moderation, of course.
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration: Blood thinners can prevent strokes, save lives
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prevent heart disease
- Before using aspirin to lower your risk of heart attack or stroke, what you should know
- Water, other fluids and fatal coronary heart disease: the Adventist health study
- Hydration and outcome in older patients admitted to hospital
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.