Most find it shocking that one of the most prescribed blood-thinning medications ever is the same main ingredient in rat poison! The road to one of the most widely used prescription anticoagulants was paved by an unusual series of events.
In 1951, a naval recruit unsuccessfully attempted suicide by taking rat poison – about 500mg of Warfarin – used as rat poison at that time. This led to the use of Warfarin (a powerful anticoagulant which acts by inhibiting the synthesis of vitamin K-dependent coagulatant factors) in humans.
The rat poison turned drug was commercially introduced as a human anticoagulant – Warfarin – in 1954. In addition to being the most widely used rodenticide in the world today, is Warfarin also listed as the 11th most prescribed pharmaceutical drug with annual sales of more than $500 million.
Many drugs pushed out by Big Pharma are equivalent to rat poison, but only a handful can actually claim to be rat poison. Meet warfarin: a widely used blood thinner which, prior to being used to treat a common heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation, was used as rat poison.
Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heartbeat that affects 2.2 million Americans. It occurs when the upper chambers of the heart do not dance to the beat of the lower chambers. This irregular and sometimes rapid heartbeat can cause poor blood flow, thereby increasing the risk of stroke.
Warfarin is derived from a coumarin anticoagulant (blood-clotting) chemical present in sweet clover and other plants. In the early 1920s, veterinarians noted that cows were experiencing bleeding problems during certain times of the year. This was eventually linked to the sweet clover hay that the cows were consuming, earning the name “sweet clover disease.”
Getting to the heart of the problem
The compound responsible for bleeding – dicumerol – was discovered in 1934. In the early 1940s, it started to be tested in people as a blood thinner. In 1945, a stronger version of dicumerol was patented and named after the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).
Around that same time, a close cousin of warfarin, named coumafuryl, was marketed as a rat poison under the brand names Rat-A-Way and Lurat. Coumafuryl was considered an effective rat poison for its odorless and tasteless quality, making it easier to feed to rats.
Warfarin was originally too strong to be given to people. However, it was prescribed for medical use in 1954, and increased in popularity in the early 1990s for slashing the risk of annual strokes by two-thirds, from 4.2 percent to 1.4 percent.
Patients prescribed warfarin for atrial fibrillation will likely be dependent on the rat poison for the rest of their lives. Although warfarin is widely prescribed, particularly to the elderly, few patients are aware that they are literally ingesting rat poison. Warfarin is now one of the most widely used oral anticoagulants in the United States.
In Australia, warfarin is only available under the brand names Coumadin and Marevan. They cannot be used interchangeably, since the tablets vary in potency and color. The recommended dose differs for each patient, from 0.5mg to 30mg a day, but the average daily dose is 4.5 mg.
Health complications attached to Warfarin
Various health complications can arise when blood becomes either too thick or too thin. To keep blood levels in check, doctors are supposed to monitor patients on warfarin with monthly blood samples and adjust their doses accordingly.
Blood clots form throughout the body by launching a sequence of blood clotting factors. The body needs vitamin K to make these blood clotting factors, which can be obtained through green leafy vegetables. Warfarin mitigates the body’s ability to use vitamin K to create these blood clotting factors. In other words, warfarin and vitamin K are sworn enemies.
Although warfarin isn’t generally known as a rat poison, it is known for causing a host of health complications, and even death. Medical records reveal that approximately 11 percent of drug complications among hospital patients are the result of anticoagulant therapy. These adverse reactions are more likely to result in permanent disability than are other medical errors.
Rate of brain hemorrhages spikes
In fact, according to a 2007 study published in the American Academy of Neurology, the rate of brain hemorrhages associated with blood thinning drugs quintupled during the 1990s. A brain hemorrhage is a stroke triggered by bleeding in the brain. The researchers stated that the spike in brain hemorrhages was primarily due to an increase in the use of warfarin which, ironically, is supposed to reduce the risk of stroke.
In particular, the researchers found that the rate of interracial hemorrhages associated with the use of blood thinners in the Cincinnati area increased from 0.8 cases per 100,000 people in 1998, to 4.4 cases per 100,000 people in 1999. For people 80 years of age and older, the rate jumped from 2.5 in 1998, to a shocking 45.9 in 1999.
“For many people, the benefits of preventing ischemic stroke continue to outweigh the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke. Our findings should not discourage the use of warfarin when it’s appropriate. Doctors can use these findings to make sure they are weighing the risks and benefits of warfarin use for their patients. For researchers, these results may stimulate efforts to develop safer alternatives to warfarin and better treatments for people with brain hemorrhages,” said lead author and neurologist Dr. Matthew L. Flaherty.
According to Dr. Michael B. Rothberg, a former associate professor at Tufts Medical Center, doctors should consider the risk of stroke versus the risk of bleeding when prescribing warfarin.
“This study demonstrates that we need to be careful when we use these therapies,” he said. “Not all patients with atrial fibrillation should be getting warfarin. Patients at the highest risk for stroke will benefit the most, and patients at the highest risk for bleeding will benefit the least.”
Natural blood thinners
The risks and benefits attached to warfarin make it a difficult medicine to gauge. In Australia, for example, warfarin use has increased to a rate of 9 percent a year for its ability to mitigate strokes. However, the risks associated with warfarin have caused many people to quit taking the medication, particularly among seniors who have the greatest risk of stroke.
Fortunately, there are alternative blood thinners out there without the dangerous side effects anchored to prescription drugs. Both cayenne peppers and vitamin C, for instance, are great for the blood vessels and heart in general. Other natural blood thinners include foods rich in salivates, a natural chemical that serves as a major ingredient for pain-relieving medications. Sources of salivates include cinnamon, turmeric, peppermint, oranges, raisins, blueberries and honey.