February is officially Heart Disease Awareness Month, but since I don’t treat disease on this website, but rather help you to be as healthy as possible, I officially decree that in our world, February is Heart Health Awareness Month! And in honor of that decree, I have a pocketful of heart-related and health-related topics to discuss with you. Let’s start this week with the oft-heard recommendation to take an aspirin a day to prevent heart disease.
Is an aspirin a day right for you?
Let’s first consult some very conventional resources to find out why so many physicians do recommend an aspirin. Aspirin is recommended to those who have had a heart attack, stent placement or stroke, because aspirin interferes with the blood’s natural clotting tendencies. Aspirin interferes with ischemic strokes (caused by blood clotting) but raises the risk of hemorrhagic strokes (caused by excessive bleeding.) Ischemic strokes are more common; hemorrhagic strokes are usually more devastating. Aspirin is also recommended if you are “at high risk” for cardiovascular disease, especially if you are 50+ (men) or 60+ (women) and have diabetes. If you are in one of those categories and want to take a daily aspirin, usually doctors say 80-100 mg is sufficient and that night-time dosing provides more benefit than morning.
Perhaps you do fit into one of those risk categories, but you wonder, what are the risks of daily aspirin and is there a safer way to achieve the same result? If you are not allergic to aspirin, the remaining risks of taking aspirin are three: intestinal bleeding and/or ulceration, hemorrhagic stroke (brain bleeding) and increased intestinal permeability. The risks of intestinal bleeding and ulceration are about 1% for each condition, so that translates into a very significant risk. Hemorrhagic stroke risks are increased in those who smoke, drink heavily, are overweight, diabetic, inactive or undergoing marked stress or depression.
You may not have heard of the the third risk of taking aspirin – increased intestinal permeability. The other name for intestinal permeability is “leaky gut”, which is one of the pre-conditions for the development of food allergies (which can cause any health problem you name) and auto-immune illnesses such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia. Intestinal permeability increases significantly with doses of 325-650 mg and particularly so in studies where participants exercised and took aspirin. Taking an aspirin a day may be relatively easy, but doing so casually does not make sense if it might increase your chance of becoming allergic to foods you love or developing an autoimmune illness!
If you are not in one of those high risk groups, there is one clear answer to your question about daily aspirin: don’t do it! Even conventional medical sources believe that for you the risks outweigh the benefits.
Any benefits of aspirin?
Aspirin has been recognized recently in cancer prevention in that there has been a correlation noted: regular consumption of aspirin seems protective against the development of colorectal and breast cancer, an effect suggested by certain clinical studies. In this case, it is more likely an anti-inflammatory effect, rather than an anti-coagulation effect of the aspirin that is protective.
Are there alternatives to aspirin?
Alternatives to aspirin abound, alternatives that provide good protection for your heart, blood vessels, colon and breasts, if you’re willing to take supplements rather than an aspirin.
What supplements can also interfere with blood clotting? Good clot blockers are all those supplements you have to stop a week before you have any surgery, including fish oil, ginger, gingko, garlic, and ginseng (all the g’s?). Some of you are probably familiar with other herbs, have I missed any?
And what about preventing breast cancer and colon cancer? Again, many good interventions and lifestyle choices can offer you complex and multiple benefits if you consult my recommendations here and here, which do not require taking a potentially hazardous aspirin every day.
Bottom line? In general, although most people can appear to get away with a daily aspirin without having a stroke or ulcer, the problem of intestinal permeability looms increasingly larger each year as we connect the dots between leaky gut and many serious chronic illnesses.
From Dr. Deborah's Desk
Speaking for myself, personally, I used to feel comfortable taking an occasional aspirin or anti-inflammatory to lower my cancer risk (I lost one parent to each of those two cancers), but now I do my best to avoid taking them for two reasons. First I want to avoid intestinal permeability, and second – guess what – inflammation is usually there for a purpose, that is either helpful or informative about something I’m doing wrong.
What about you, have you been taking a daily aspirin? Has this article changed your mind at all?