Diet Considerations for Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blockage of one of the pulmonary arteries. This condition is a serious medical problem and may affect up to 900,000 people in the United States each year.

A pulmonary embolism is usually caused by a blood clot — also known as a thrombus — that forms in a blood vessel, breaks off, and travels to the lungs. These clots often originate in the lower body as a result of a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

While blood clots have many causes, your lifestyle habits may play a role. You may wonder whether the foods you eat can contribute to — or help prevent — a pulmonary embolism.

This article tells you all you need to know about diet and its role in pulmonary embolisms.

Can diet cause a pulmonary embolism?

A pulmonary embolism is usually caused by DVT, which occurs when a blood clot develops in a deep vein — typically in the calves or thighs — and travels to the lungs, resulting in a blocked pulmonary artery.

Air bubbles, tumors, and other debris may also block the pulmonary arteries, although these causes are less common.

Risk factors for DVT may include:

  • physical inactivity, especially being still for very long periods at once
  • older age
  • pregnancy and childbirth
  • heart or lung diseases
  • genetics
  • certain medications, such as birth control pills
  • hip or leg fracture
  • injury or surgery of the veins
  • some cancers
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • endocrine disorders like diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome

To date, there’s little research to suggest that diet plays a role in the development of pulmonary embolisms or blood clots — though certain conditions that may be related to diet, such as heart disease, are linked to increased risk.

In one 2020 study, researchers evaluated people with a genetic predisposition to venous thromboembolism (blood clots that can lead to DVT or pulmonary embolism).

They found that having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 was associated with a 45% lower risk of blood clots compared with having a BMI of 30 or greater.

Though diet doesn’t appear to play a direct role, getting enough physical activity does.

Plus, eating a healthy diet low in ultra-processed foods is linked with lower body weight, which may help reduce the risk of blood clots and DVT.

Do certain foods decrease risk of a pulmonary embolism?

Some data suggests that a diet rich in antioxidants may reduce the likelihood of a blood clot, which could therefore prevent a pulmonary embolism.

For instance, a 2021 study including 81,507 people found that an antioxidant- rich diet led to a significantly lower risk of developing blood clots. This effect was especially pronounced in people with a history of smoking tobacco products.

Further, greater vegetable and fruit consumption was linked with a lower risk of pulmonary embolism, while wine consumption was associated with a lower risk of DVT.

These foods are all high in antioxidants, which are compounds that help reduce inflammation in the body.

The 2021 study also found a link between french fry consumption and a greater risk of pulmonary embolism.

A 2020 review found that a diet rich in antioxidants, such as the Mediterranean diet, may have anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, and antiplatelet effects, which may reduce buildup of plaque in the blood vessels.

Foods high in antioxidants and polyphenols include fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish, cocoa, and red wine.

However, the researchers make it clear that no food or nutrient has been shown to individually reduce the risk of blood clots and that higher quality human clinical trials are needed.

At this time, it appears that an antioxidant-rich diet may play a minor role in reducing blood clot risk, but it cannot be recommended as a method of prevention or treatment.

Lifestyle tips to prevent pulmonary embolism

In addition to consuming a nutritious diet, there are other lifestyle habits that may reduce your risk of a pulmonary embolism, including:

  • Being physically active: Physical activity helps increase blood flow to your lower limbs and can help you maintain a moderate body weight.
  • Maintaining a moderate body weight: Excess weight may put pressure on your lower limbs, increasing the risk of DVT and pulmonary embolism.
  • Avoiding sitting for too long: Prolonged sitting, such as working at a desk or sitting on an airplane, can increase your DVT risk. Ideally, try to get up every hour or so and move your legs often. You can increase circulation in your legs while sitting by doing ankle pumps (alternately pointing your foot away from your body and then toward your shin).
  • Quitting smoking: Smoking raises your risk of blood clots, DVT, and pulmonary embolism.
  • Staying hydrated: Drinking enough water helps support healthy blood flow and may reduce the risk of DVT.
  • Wearing compression socks: Compression socks help promote blood flow in your lower extremities. If you’re at risk of DVT, a healthcare professional may suggest that you wear them at home and/or during physical activity.

If you’re at risk of DVT or a pulmonary embolism or have experienced one in the past, it’s important to work closely with a healthcare professional. They may recommend additional treatments, such as medication, to help lower your risk.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some questions people commonly ask about pulmonary embolism and diet.

What foods should you avoid if you have blood clots?

Currently, there is no evidence that any foods cause blood clots. However, it’s best to limit your consumption of ultra-processed foods high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt, as these foods can increase your risk of heart disease and weight gain.

If you have blood clots, it’s important to discuss any changes you want to make to your diet with a healthcare professional. Some foods may interact with the medications that they prescribe.

What foods help with blood clots?

Some research suggests that a diet high in antioxidants may lower your risk of developing blood clots. Foods high in antioxidants include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, olive oil, cocoa, and red wine.

Again, be sure to clear any dietary changes with a medical professional to avoid potential medication interactions.

How do you dissolve a pulmonary embolism naturally?

You should not try to address a pulmonary embolism on your own.

If you think you’re experiencing a pulmonary embolism, seek immediate medical attention — it can be fatal.

The bottom line

A pulmonary embolism is a life threatening condition that often results from a blood clot due to DVT.

Some studies have evaluated the role that diet may play in DVT and pulmonary embolism and found that although diet isn’t recognized as a risk factor on its own, it may affect other factors that could contribute, such as overweight and obesity.

A diet high in antioxidants may be helpful, but it’s not currently recommended as a prevention or treatment.

No specific food is known to directly reduce or cause blood clots, DVT, or pulmonary embolism. Factors that may increase your risk include physical inactivity, surgery or injuries, and smoking.

It’s best to focus on maintaining a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle, which may help prevent pulmonary embolisms. Be sure to work closely with a healthcare professional if you’re at risk or if you have questions or concerns.

A note on weight discrimination

Although studies often suggest that obesity is a risk factor for certain health conditions, including pulmonary embolism, they may not account for the role weight stigma and discrimination play in health.

Weight discrimination in healthcare can prevent people at high body weights from seeking medical care — and those who do may not receive accurate diagnoses or treatment, because doctors may attribute their health concerns solely to their weight.

As a result, any health condition a person may have may be more advanced by the time they receive a diagnosis.

Meanwhile, experiences of weight stigma in daily life, even outside of medical settings, are associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes.

Everyone deserves appropriate and compassionate medical care. If you’re interested in finding weight-inclusive healthcare professionals, you may want to follow the work of the Association for Size Diversity and Health, which is developing a directory.

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