Health Matters

Suffering from DVTs and Pulmonary Embolisms? Could your iron levels be a cause?


Annually 17000 Australians suffer blood clots in their veins (VTE). This article was inspired by a patient suffering iron deficiency, who’d recently been released from hospital after treatment for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and subsequent pulmonary embolism (blood-clots) in both lungs. DVT blood clots can break off and eventually lodge in the lungs causing pulmonary thromboembolism (PE) as happened in this patient.

Iron-deficiency (ID) is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. ID is also a known risk factor for blood clotting disorders such as VTE, but this is ‘under-recognised’ and so testing for iron deficiency/anaemia isn’t routinely done in hospitalized VTE patients.

The exact mechanism/s via which ID causes blood clots is still being elucidated. ID can increase platelet counts which may increase likelihood of clotting and animal studies show that platelet count in ID can be normalised by iron supplements. However, clots also occur in ID patients when platelet-counts are normal so the reason for increased clotting in ID may be unrelated to platelet count.

Apart from ID, previous studies have linked raised levels of blood-coagulation ‘factor-VIII’, to increased risk of recurring VTE & PE.

Researchers suspected a link between iron and factor-VIII blood-levels so they studied patients with an inherited disorder of blood-vessel-formation called haemorrhagic Telangiectasia (HHT). Patients suffer turbulent blood flow within fragile blood-vessel walls, rendering blood-vessels prone to haemorrhage. HHT patients are also at increased risk of:

  1. blood loss and thus iron deficiency,
  2. VTE.

The authors found that lower blood iron levels in HHT patients increased risk of blood-clots. When iron levels were low (6 μmol/litre) patients were 2.5 times more likely to suffer clots compared to patients with ‘mid-normal-range’ iron levels (17 μmol/litre). Although factor-VIII increases with age, acute inflammation and vWF concentration (its carrier protein), after accounting for these and platelet count, iron deficiency remained an independent risk factor for increased factor-VIII blood levels and blood-clotting risk.  Study authors concluded (citing evidence) that blood-vessel lining-cells (endothelial-cells) can sense low blood-iron. These cells respond by increasing factor-VIII production to reduce bleeding-risk, thus avoiding further iron loss. The extra factor-VIII however increases clotting risk. The important finding was that blood clots disappeared with iron supplementation.

Although iron supplementation worked well in the study above, for the last few months we have been looking at foods that are high in vitamin K. This vitamin promotes appropriate clotting (not too much, not too little). Adequate vitamin K levels ensure excellent activity of vitamin-K-dependant anticlotting enzymes which ensure unwanted clots never occur in the first place.  This raises an important point often missed by people focused on single supplements. Foods contain nutrients that often work synergistically. For example, green leafy vegetables when juiced provide very good levels of iron and have been used in third world countries to fight iron deficiency. The same vegetables also contain high levels of vitamin K1. Iron and vitamin K then work together to guard against excess blood-clotting and protect people from DVT and TVE. For this reason, food (good diet) is often a much better (more comprehensive/effective) solution for addressing health issues.

Article Written + Submitted by:

Andreas Klein Nutritionist + Remedial Therapist from Beautiful Health + Wellness
P: 0418 166 269

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