If you didn’t know that moderate alcohol consumption tends to thin out the platelets in your blood, this information is something you need to know. While drinking in moderation can have some health benefits, it’s not easy to balance how much you drink with your overall health.
Moderate drinking is one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men. However, if you are taking blood thinners, drinking even that much may be risky. Your doctor should explain these important facts to you, along with information about your specific health status. If you don’t have major health issues, you may be able to drink lightly to moderately with your doctor’s permission.
Does Alcohol Really Thin Your Blood?
Because alcohol stops blood cells from sticking together, it can thin your blood. This could be good or bad for your current and future health.
Your blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The platelets are what stop the blood flow when you’re hurt. These special cells are stickier than the others in your bloodstream and they also release clotting factors that help to create a plug to close a bleeding injury.
This is where alcohol enters the picture. A glass or two of wine daily may (or may not) reduce your risk of heart disease or ischemic (clotting) strokes. It does this by cutting down the number of platelets in your blood. It gets in the way of blood cell production, down in your bone marrow. Alcohol also reduces the “stickiness” factor of the platelets in your bloodstream, making it more difficult for your body to heal small to large wounds. It can also cause things like nosebleeds after a single night of over-drinking. Fortunately, the effect of alcohol doesn’t last very long.
On the minus side, drinking too much can lead to strokes from blood clots breaking off and traveling to the brain, hemorrhagic (bleeding) strokes, high blood pressure, and even heart attacks.
How Do Platelets and Your Blood Work Anyway?
Platelets move through your bloodstream, throughout your entire body. About 70% travel freely while the remaining 30% stay in your spleen, where they are stored. After new platelets are made in your bone marrow, they live in your body for about 7-10 days.
Platelets are beneficial to your health. They stop excessive bleeding should you be hurt; they work together with your white blood cells and your red blood cells. All three components are carried through your body by liquid plasma (a clear fluid).
Blood thinners come in two classes. One is an anticoagulant, which prevents platelet clotting. The second class is an anti-platelet medication, which keeps platelets from sticking together to create a clot.
Pros and Cons
Does alcohol have beneficial effects by thinning your blood down? One school of thought says, yes. More watery blood may be better for your circulatory system and heart, it says. Some research-based evidence suggests that people who have thicker blood may be at higher risk of developing a stroke or having a heart attack. The blood is viscous, or thicker, and higher viscosity makes it more difficult for a fluid to flow; think of honey or thickened oil. When blood is thick enough not to flow easily, your heart has to work that much harder to move it throughout your body. Also, viscous blood is more likely to develop into clots in your veins and arteries.
However, blood that is too thin won’t clot when it’s supposed to. People with thinner blood bruise more easily, their cuts and other wounds heal more slowly, and their platelets break down more often than other people’s and so need replaced more often. Autoimmune disorders, such as systemic lupus erythematous or rheumatoid arthritis can cause this.
An enlarged spleen or hypersplenism can lead to thin blood, and can cause platelets to get caught inside the spleen.
Alcohol AND Blood Thinners? Bad Idea
Because alcohol acts to thin your blood, it’s never a good idea to drink too much of it while you are taking prescribed blood thinners. It’s even worse to mix alcohol, a prescribed blood thinner, and Aspirin or Advil. Overdoing the alcohol, taking aspirin, and taking your blood thinner as prescribed can lead to internal bleeding. If you were to have an accident, even a normally minor one, and suffer injuries, you may experience excessive bleeding, which may require emergency medical care or surgery.
An occasional drink or even moderate drinking throughout the week is okay. However, if you are physically dependent on alcohol or drink moderately, you should tell your doctor if they want to prescribe a blood thinner for a diagnosed medical condition.
Alcohol Instead of Blood Thinners?
Alcohol thins your blood, working by affecting how blood clots. Because of this, you might think that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol, and being careful not to go beyond that amount, could help to keep your blood from becoming too thick. After all, thicker blood could increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack.
However, it’s never a good idea to use alcohol in place of your prescription blood thinners. Your doctor has prescribed you a very specific amount of medication based on specific factors they found in your blood. You have no chance of perfectly matching the effect of your prescribed medication, and this can be incredibly dangerous.
If you drink to excess on a regular basis, you run the risk of excessive bleeding or even a bleeding stroke, even if you stop taking your blood thinners for a time. Additionally, some medications, such as Coumadin (warfarin), interacts badly with alcohol.
Abstain from alcohol while you are taking an anticoagulant or blood thinner. It’s hard for your doctor to determine the right dose and keep you as healthy as possible if you also drink.
Additional Risks of Drinking
Excessive drinking may lead to an alcohol dependence disorder, which may require long-term treatment for the person to maintain an initial recovery.
There are also certain individuals who shouldn’t drink any alcohol in any quantity:
Drinking to excess can lead to injuries, alcohol poisoning, violence, stillbirth/miscarriage, and risky sexual acts (sex with multiple partners, unprotected sex, etc.). Unprotected sex can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, or an unintended pregnancy. Being under the influence leads to poor judgment. If a pregnant woman continues drinking throughout her pregnancy, her baby can be born suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, which is a collection/spectrum of developmental and facial abnormalities.
Long-term drinking may lead to various cancers, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, digestive problems, or liver disease. It may also cause a person to develop anxiety or depression, learning and memory problems, social problems (lost productivity or employment), or have family problems. Alcohol dependence and eventual addiction is also a risk.