aspirin, risks, hemorrhagic stroke, platelets, omega 3

An Aspirin a Day?

An Aspirin a Day?

The health adage used to be “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I’ve not seen any studies or statistics or long term studies on the effectiveness of apples in preventing disease, but they unquestionably do provide significant health benefits.

For example, apples contain up to six times more procyanidin, a plant chemical with multiple health benefits, than the highly publicized red wine. The skin of the apple is an excellent source of insoluble fiber, and apples are a rich source of pectin, which has been shown to enhance the activity of white blood cells in fighting bacteria, improve the body’s ability to rid itself of toxins, and decrease the likelihood of colon cancer.

It is not difficult to identify ways in which an apple is capable of living up to its reputation. Modern scientific findings tend to support the folk wisdom of eating an apple a day to promote health. The practice is quite safe, with few, if any, negative effects reported.

Our society has largely abandoned the “apple a day” path to better health and has embraced its own adage, “An aspirin a day keeps illness at bay.” The people who consult me tend to be significantly more health conscious than the average individual, but I believe that a higher percentage of them are taking an aspirin a day than are eating an apple a day.

I am not writing this article to extol the virtues of apples, although that would not be an unworthy purpose. I am writing it because I am very concerned about the popular myth that the single best step a person can take to protect his or her health is to take an aspirin a day.

While a few individuals are taking aspirin to prevent heart attacks it is my experience that the vast majority has no idea why they are doing so. When I ask an individual why he or she is taking an aspirin a day the most common response I receive is, “I don’t know. I heard it was a good thing to do.”

Is taking an aspirin a day a good thing? My opinion is that it is not. It is simply a dangerous substitute for providing the body with the nutrients necessary to function properly.

Aspirin is a drug, and I agree wholeheartedly with Wier Mitchel, M.D. who said, “Medicine is only palliative, for back of disease lies the cause, and this cause no drug can reach.” Drugs are not only palliative, capable of easing symptoms; they are inevitably associated with undesirable side effects. Aspirin is no exception.

Ironically, it is one of aspirin’s toxic effects that accounts for its popularity. As little as 75 mg. of aspirin will poison the body’s platelets, making them incapable of performing the function for which they are designed, clumping together to stop bleeding at a site of injury. Since it takes at least 48 hours for the body to manufacture enough new platelets to do the job of plugging leaks in the vascular system, an individual will be at increased risk for bruising or bleeding internally for two days after taking a single 81 mg. baby aspirin.

Why would someone choose to accept this risk? I believe that it is generally due to ignorance, of not realizing that the risk exists. The fact that an aspirin a day actually increases the risk of stroke in most people is just not mentioned. It is the aspirin industry’s dirty little secret.

To make an informed decision about any action one must ask three questions. What are the benefits, what are the risks, and what are the alternatives. It is important that you, as a consumer of medical products and services, understand that in our culture the benefits of any drug are magnified and the risks associated with that drug are minimized or ignored.

Pharmaceutical advertisements are a prime example of this. They display beautiful pictures and soft music while an announcer proclaims the virtues of the product. Then at the end, in fast, quiet tones, a small partial list of possible side effects is given, almost as an inconsequential afterthought.

What are the benefits of taking an aspirin a day? Aspirin poisons platelets and prevents them from clumping together. If you have not been giving your body the nutrients necessary to produce healthy platelets they will be sticky and tend to clump together even when no injury is present. These clumps can clog a narrowed artery and be one of the factors that trigger a heart attack. Taking an aspirin a day will virtually guarantee that your platelets do not clump together unnecessarily.

What are the risks of taking an aspirin a day? Once poisoned, your platelets cannot work under any circumstance. This means that even a minor bump can result in a significant bruise. I can often tell that a person is taking an aspirin a day simply by looking at the arms. The multiple purplish spots are a telltale sign. Nosebleeds are more common, since the platelets are unable to plug small leaks in the tiny blood vessels in the nasal lining.

One of the most devastating complications of taking an aspirin a day is the occurrence of a hemorrhagic stroke, a stroke caused by bleeding into the brain. While an aspirin a day clearly lowers the risk of suffering a heart attack, evidence that it is capable of preventing a stoke is lacking. Not only is there insufficient evidence to support the theory that taking an aspirin a day will prevent strokes, there is ample evidence demonstrating that the practice actually increases the number of hemorrhagic strokes, particularly in women.

These complications can occur when taking as little as one baby aspirin every other day. When taking a full 325 mg. aspirin daily other risks arise. Aspirin, in doses above 90 mg. daily, interferes with the mechanisms that protect the stomach lining from the acid that is present. This can result in an ulcer.

Aspirin can also lower kidney efficiency. This in turn can place a greater load on the heart and aggravate a condition called congestive heart failure in susceptible individuals.

Aspirin can trigger or worsen asthma attacks in some individuals. It is also a common cause of chronic urticaria, hives that keep recurring.

What are the alternatives to taking an aspirin a day? Give your body the fatty acids it needs to manufacture the platelet membrane properly. Platelets that have alternating fatty acids in their membranes are not sticky. They will only clump together at a site of injury. As long as an abundant supply of essential fatty acids is available the platelet membranes will be assembled properly. Deficiencies in essential fatty acids will result in the use of whatever fats are available. As a result, membranes will become sticky and platelets will clump together in the blood stream increasing the risk of a heart attack.

Essential fatty acids are found in vegetable oils like flaxseed, evening primrose, and borage. They are also found in the belly fat of fish, which is sold as Omega 3 fish oil supplements.

Should you be taking an aspirin a day? My advice is to take aspirin in an emergency situation, such as when experiencing chest pain or other symptoms of an impending heart attack, when its effectiveness is unquestioned and the benefit clearly outweighs the risk. If you have recently had a heart attack or thrombotic (blood clot caused) stroke taking an aspirin a day may be worthwhile. If you are seeking to prevent a heart attack or stroke caused by sticky platelets a far better course is to consume a tablespoon of flax oil daily for every 100 pounds of body weight or to take 2 or 3 Omega 3 capsules twice daily. Beyond that, little will be lost and much gained by reverting to the wisdom of the past, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”