Should you take an aspirin a day?
Ounce of Prevention with Dr. Vendryes
ASPIRIN IS the common name for the chemical acetylsalicylic acid (ASA). In the early 1800s, chemists extracted the substance salicin from the bark of the white willow tree. Manipulation of this natural compound led to the creation of aspirin trademarked by the German company Bayer in 1899.
For over a century, aspirin had been a preferred treatment for arthritis pain, headaches, and fever. Today, many doctors recommend that the drug be taken on a daily basis for the prevention of heart attack, the number-one killer in the world. More recently, researchers suggest that daily aspirin may reduce one's risk of bowel cancer.
Aspirin for heart attacks
The use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks is based on the drug's ability to inhibit the formation of blood clots, or thromboses, in the body. The common saying 'aspirin thins the blood' is not strictly true. Aspirin actually inhibits clot formation by preventing blood elements called platelets from sticking together, the process that initiates clot development.
The widespread use of aspirin for the prevention of heart attacks is based on the results of several widely publicised medical research studies. However, a number of respected scientists have questioned the conclusions drawn from those studies, but their views have not received equal publicity.
Although prophylactic aspirin may reduce the chance of a high-risk individual getting his first heart attack, there is absolutely no evidence that it will reduce the risk of a heart attack in low-risk individuals or those without circulatory problems. In fact, in the latter group, the risks outweigh the benefits. There is also no improvement in death rates in the people who take aspirin, and there seems to be no justification for a relatively healthy individual taking aspirin 'just in case'.
After a first heart attack, studies show that aspirin is useful for a limited period of time in preventing a second attack. The first aspirin tablet should be taken as soon as possible after a heart attack. Then, in consultation with your doctor, switch to low-dosage enteric coated aspirin tablets (81mg baby aspirin). Discuss stopping aspirin therapy after four to eight weeks if no further attacks threaten.
Most of these research studies used buffered aspirin in order to reduce the side effects of aspirin. Buffered aspirin contains a significant amount of the mineral magnesium, a natural substance that contains its own powerful protective properties. Perhaps the magnesium is what is providing some of the benefits.
No doubt, aspirin is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and inflammation underlies many disease processes. But aspirin has serious side effects like gastritis, peptic ulcer, intestinal bleeding, haemorrhagic shock, and sudden death. Aspirin can also affect your eyes, increasing the risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. There is even a 500 per cent increase in the risk of cataracts in individuals below age 55 taking aspirin long term.
Aspirin is not a nutritional supplement. It is a medication with real risks and side effect and its use long term should be supervised by your doctor.
The most important protection against heart attacks is a healthy lifestyle: excellent cellular nutrition, weight control, exercise, avoidance of cigarette smoke, stress management, and adequate rest. These are all critically important.
OMEGA 3 fats: Omega-3 fatty acids also help keep blood platelets from becoming sticky and clumping together to form blood clots. They do what aspirin does without the side effects of aspirin and with many, many other health benefits.
Researchers have found that men who have had a heart attack had a 29 per cent less chance of having a second heart attack when they ate a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids. In 2003, the American Heart Association recommended that people with heart disease take approximately one gramme of omega-3 fats each day. I suggest an even higher dosage of 3 grammes daily.
Vitamin E: A powerful antioxidant at dosages as low as 100 to 250 IU daily has demonstrated impressive results in preventing a first heart attack, with side effects so minimal as not to be mentioned. Vitamin E at a higher dosage of 400 IU daily was also effective in protecting heart attack sufferers from a repeat attack.
Magnesium: Most heart attack victims at postmortem examination are found to be magnesium deficient. Although adequate studies on magnesium supplements for the primary prevention of heart attacks are not available, the experience of many clinicians, as well as studies on the magnesium content of drinking water and heart disease make a good case for taking magnesium supplements. I recommend magnesium aspartate capsules, 200 to 600mg daily. The conventional medical establishment has already accepted the use of magnesium in treating high blood pressure, heart attacks, and heart failure.
Herbs: Herbs like pycnogenol, ginkgo biloba, and garlic all demonstrate anti-clotting properties and decrease the risk of clot formation without the risks associated with aspirin.
Although this may seem a complex issue, I hope readers now realise that there are safer alternatives to aspirin that they can use to protect and maintain a healthy heart. For the inevitable questions that will arise from my medical colleagues, I would refer them to an excellent review article published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 14, No. 4.
You may email Dr, Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org, or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8:00 p.m. The programme streams live on the Internet.