Does Alcohol Thin Your Blood?

Blood thinners are agents that reduce the viscosity of blood. High viscous blood can cause a lot of health complications. The condition where your blood thickness increases and a greater predisposition to clot formation is called hypercoagulability states. When your blood viscosity increases, you may form clots in the blood vessels. This is known as thrombosis. The thrombus can get suspended in the blood vessel lumen causing and emboli. Emboli can also result from air bubbles in your circulation.

The embolus carries a greater risk of obstructing small blood vessel especially in the legs and brain.  If obstruction takes place in your brain you may develop a condition called stroke. This is due to the reduced blood supply to your brain tissues. In such conditions, blood thinning agents are used so as to reduce the chances of developing these complications. Alcohol, although it has blood thinning effects, is not used as a traditional blood thinner. This is mainly because of the addictive effects that this compound has.

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As normal, moderation is chief to getting the most out of alcohol consumption. Research has shown that, moderate consumption of alcohol has an effect on blood coagulation. The blood thinning activity by alcohol however, can have both wanted and unwanted effects.

A study in populations of drinkers and non-drinkers have shown that moderate consumers tend to display lower incidences of heart disease and associated complications but have increased incidences of bleeding disorders than non-drinkers. The most possible mediator in these two contrasting results is the effect on platelets. Platelets are blood cells that are implicated in blood clotting.

The contrasting effects of alcohol

These contrasting effects of alcohol can be compared to the blood thinning effects of aspirin. Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory and analgesic drug that is mostly used to alleviate pain that results from inflammation. It has been shown to reduce the rate of heart attacks but an increased tendency to bleed just like alcohol. These are the results of a study that was conducted by Kenneth J. Mukamal who is an internist. The most reasonable mechanism how heart attacks were reduced is due to the effects that aspirin has on the intraluminal clots that form.

The effect of alcohol on platelets is reducing their stickiness. Platelets need to aggregate so that they can form a clot. Several mechanisms always work to balance the process of clot formation and its absorption. Absorption of clots means dissolving them so that they do not grow into large masses in your blood vessel leading to obstruction that result in complication. Alcohol makes these blood elements dissociate; therefore reducing the chances forming clots. These blood cells need activation to be sticky and alcohol blocks the process of activation.

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The framingham study

A famous study to determine the effect of alcohol consumption on blood was conducted in 1971. This study was called the Framingham Offspring study of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Its participants were the sons and daughters of those who took part in the original Framingham Heart Study. This study involved approximately 5124 participants, both men and women.

The participants have been followed since then and examination takes places after every four years. This study has shown that, moderate consumers of alcohol display less heart problems than abstainers and consumers of toxic amounts. It has been shown that, in both men and women, consumption of three to six drinks per week is linked to lower levels of coagulability as measured by aggregability.

The georgetown university medical center study

Research at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington supports the views that other studies have shown. This research may also explain the French paradox, which refers to the fact that French population has much lower incidences of heart disease than the American population, even though the French people eat food high in fat content. Red wine, which is a drink that the French enjoy as their culture has ingredients that are thought to be partly responsible for this observation.

It has also been shown that the effects on men are more prominent than in women. The difference in gender effects is not clear but a proposed mechanism is the different ways in which men and women metabolize alcohol.

In the Georgetown University Medical Center study, the participants were given grain alcohol mixed with soft drinks to equal one or two drinks of alcohol. Blood then was drawn from their veins one hour after the drink.

A test on the blood sample was run to determine the level of alcohol in the blood and see the effects on blood clotting. One drink revealed no big difference in their blood clotting process. However, higher doses prevented the platelets from aggregating to each other. This is a result of inhibition of the activation process of platelets. How long the effect lasts is not known.

Disadvantages of using alcohol as a thinning agent

It should be noted however, that researches do not advocate that you drink if you have a heart condition or even when you are normal. This is because the effects of alcohol are far reaching and even the blood thinning effect may be bad for your health too. Alcohol can also be addictive leading to dependence and more social problems. Caution should be taken when using alcohol as a preventive means of heart condition. Only moderate intake is advocated for.

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