“An aspirin a day keeps heart attacks at bay” is an axiom long touted by doctors. But recent research is telling a different story.
Studies are showing that daily low-dose aspirin may not be as heart protective as thought and, in fact, that the risks may outweigh the benefits, particularly for people with no history of cardiac problems.
An analysis of data from nine large studies in the U.S., Europe and Japan, by researchers at the Cardiac and Vascular Sciences Research Center at St. George’s University of London, in 2012, concluded that for many patients with no history of heart attack or stroke, aspirin therapy added little to proven strategies such as treatment to regulate blood pressure and cholesterol and lifestyle changes including smoking cessation, weight loss and exercise.
The heart attack culprit is often a blood clot. So, as a blood thinner, aspirin seems like a no-brainer as a weapon, considering the theory that aspirin makes the blood less likely to clot.
However, the very property of thinning the blood is what researchers are now seeing as a larger threat, causing life-threatening internal bleeding, often in the stomach and intestines, as well as hemorrhagic brain strokes.
Just this past Spring, the U.S. FDA raised a red flag regarding aspirin use. It stated that there may be benefits for patients who have already suffered from a stroke but, due to the serious health risks such as internal bleeding, the agency could not support use of aspirin as a preventative measure.
And, now, another negative side effect has been identified: vision loss.
Last year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine identified a link between aspirin use and age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss and blindness among the 55-plus demographic.
While this news might be cause for second thoughts in those considering starting a daily dose of aspirin, for people already on this therapy the advice is don’t stop — at least not cold turkey.
Another recent study, tracking patients who had suffered a heart attack and were taking daily aspirin in hope of preventing a second one, found those who stopped the therapy were 60 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack over three years than those who kept taking the pills.
Clearly, there is a rebound effect when people come off aspirin quickly and stopping right away does pose a risk. But the fact alone that being on it causes all these other problems does not make it a good thing. Patients often ask me the question, “Should my drugs really make me sick before they make me better?”
Naturally, people look to taper off this drug just as one would any other. However, unfortunately, no natural health care provider can coach somebody off a medication and even medical doctors seldom enjoy overseeing this process.
Therefore, it’s vital for people who decide they don’t want to take aspirin to do their homework and become familiar with all the information available, so that if they opt for a better and healthier lifestyle, they can enter into it wisely.
Fortunately, when it comes to a healthier lifestyle, there are several natural alternatives for protecting the health of the heart, backed by science:
- Beetroot and Hawthorn Berry
These foods and berries work to improve the body’s levels of nitric oxide, which acts as a vasodilator, relaxing blood vessels and thus preventing stroke and heart disease. Beetroot and hawthorn berry can be added to a daily smoothy or fresh juice.
This honey-colored seed has three heart-friendly ingredients: fiber, phytochemicals called lignans, and ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants. For maximum nutrition, grind it and add it to cereal, baked goods or yogurt.
- From the Sea
Salmon is a top food for heart health, rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. This fish also lowers blood triglycerides and helps curb inflammation. Tuna is also an ideal source for omega-3s, that can reduce the risk of heart rhythm disorders and lower blood pressure. (Albacore or white tuna has more omega-3s than other varieties.) My only caution when it comes to Tuna: it’s a large, deep-sea fish, and high on its food chain. The higher up the food chain you go, the more you need to ensure you’re consuming a clean animal! The American Heart Association recommends two servings a week of salmon or other naturally oily fish. Mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and anchovies are other fantastic options.
This versatile herb has numerous health benefits and heart health is among them. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2006, found garlic to be effective in treating patients with coronary artery calcification. In the pilot study, garlic was shown to reduce hardened arteries. The herb can be added to most dishes and is available in supplement form as well.
- Nuts and Berries
Walnuts, packed with omega-3s, monounsaturated fats, and fiber, may lower cholesterol and ease inflammation in the heart’s arteries. Almonds are rich in plant sterols, fiber, and heart-healthy fats and may help lower bad LDL cholesterol. Cherries are loaded with the antioxidant anthocyanin, which may help protect blood vessels. Blueberries also have anthocyanins as well as beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, and fiber.
- Turmeric and laurel leaf
Tumeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and blood purifier, used in medicines for a variety of ailments. In a study from Korea’s Yeungnam University, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, it was paired with laurel leaf and the combo showed benefits in fighting hardening of the arteries in zebra fish on a high-cholesterol diet, showing signs of atherosclerosis. Tumeric and laurel can be taken as oral supplement or used in cooking.
- Vitamin E
Natural vitamin E contains alpha-tocopherol, effective in primary prevention of coronary artery disease
Lifestyle definitely trumps medication when it comes to prevention. For those on aspirin for an existing condition, who are concerned about this new evidence, it might be time to think about which doctors you include in your circle of advisers in determining your plan for a safer and healthier alternative.