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Is an aspirin a day healthy?

Published:Tuesday | June 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

ASPIRIN IS the common name for the chemical compound acetylsalicylic acid (ASA). Early chemists discovered the substance salicin in the bark of the White Willow tree. By manipulation of this natural compound, the German company Bayer trademarked aspirin in 1899. For more than a century, aspirin was a preferred treatment for fever and painful conditions like arthritis and headaches. Today, doctors recommend that the drug be taken on a daily basis for the prevention of heart attacks, the number-one killer in the world.

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 starts the clotting process. This has been backed by the results of several widely publicised medical studies.

A number of respected scientists have, however, questioned the conclusions drawn from those studies, but their views have not received equal publicity.

Aspirin concerns

Although prophylactic aspirin may reduce the chance of an individual at high risk getting a heart attack for the first time, there is absolutely no evidence that it will reduce the risk of a heart attack in low-risk individuals. In fact, the risks outweigh the benefits in the latter group. There seems to be no justification for a relatively healthy person taking aspirin 'just in case', and it does not improve death rates.

After a first heart attack, studies show that aspirin is useful in preventing a second attack for a short time. 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 81mg baby aspirin tablets. Discuss stopping aspirin therapy after four to eight weeks if no further attacks threaten.

But 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.

Aspirin dangers

Aspirin has serious side effects like gastritis, peptic ulcer, intestinal bleeding, haemorrhagic shock, and sudden death. Aspirin can also affect one's 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 effects. Thus, it should not be taken without an in-depth risk assessment by one's physician.

Safer alternatives

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. Several nutritional supplements also provide protection.

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 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 1 gram of omega-3 fats each day. I suggest an even higher dosage of three 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 post-mortem 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, 500 to 750 mg daily. The conventional medical establishment has already accepted the use of magnesium in treating high blood pressure, heart attacks, and heart failure.

Although this may seem a complex issue, I hope readers now realise that they 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 Tony Vendryes at or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book, 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women', is available locally and on the Internet.