Aspirin and Heart Attack

Doctors frequently prescribe a daily aspirin as a preventative against heart attack. But, do you know the dangers of a regular intake of aspirin? Keep in mind, aspirin is a drug, and with drugs come side effects. If you or someone you love takes or is thinking about taking aspirin for heart attack prevention, there are a few questions you should ask. What is the function of aspirin in heart health? Do the benefits of aspirin outweigh the negative health consequences? Are there safer, natural choices to get the same result as aspirin?

Aspirin and Its Functions

Aspirin cuts the risk of heart attack by interfering with the production of hormone-like chemicals in the body called prostaglandins,[1] which regulate many of the body’s vital functions. By blocking certain inflammatory prostaglandins that contribute to “sticky blood,” aspirin reduces clot formation.5 Frequent small clots over many years damage the arteries, causing arteriosclerosis. If large clots form, the result can be a heart attack or stroke.[2] In addition, research over the past decade has linked heart attacks to inflammation of the cardiovascular system. Excess inflammation of the heart arteries allows fatty deposits to find a better foothold.2 Since aspirin also diminishes inflammation, it is another protective effect against heart attacks and strokes.

Does this mean aspirin is the long-sought miracle drug that prevents heart attacks? NO! Aspirin does not prevent heart disease, nor does it reverse heart disease that is already in progress. The only way to prevent heart disease is to reduce the risk factors, such as poor diet, smoking, nutrient deficiencies, lack of exercise, excess weight, and other lifestyle factors. The question still remains, does the “blood thinning action” of aspirin outweigh its many known side effects?

Dangers of Aspirin

Long after aspirin’s introduction, it was discovered that this drug decreases the production of the inflammatory hormone prostaglandins by inhibiting the COX enzyme. However, it was later understood that this drug also inhibits the balancing and protective features of this necessary enzyme. It was eventually realized that the COX enzyme is actually two separate enzymes: COX-1 and COX-2. COX-1, “the good COX” is essential for proper kidney function and for protecting the stomach. COX-2 is the one responsible for the production of inflammatory prostaglandins. Chronically inhibiting all COX activity, such as with long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen, increases the risk of damaging critical organ systems in the body.2 Below is a description of several of the possible consequences of aspirin intake. Although most of the listed side effects can be associated with NSAIDs in general, this article is focusing on aspirin.

Cartilage Degeneration (arthritis)

Aspirin inhibits cartilage repair, meaning it inhibits collagen matrix synthesis and contributes to the acceleration of cartilage destruction.[3] Since osteoarthritis is caused by degeneration of cartilage, it appears that aspirin can accelerate the progression of this condition.

Stomach Lining Irritation and Bleeding Disorders

Aspirin can irritate the stomach lining and cause heartburn, pain, nausea, vomiting, and, over time, more serious consequences such as internal bleeding3, ulcers, and holes in the stomach or intestines.[4] Increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, will allow the absorption of large dietary and bacterial molecules. Ultimately, this will lead to more inflammation throughout the body.[5] The researchers of a study printed in the British Medical Journal found that aspirin causes about 1 in 100 patients over a 28-month period to experience a bout of bleeding somewhere in their gastrointestinal tract. The researchers emphasized that even low doses over long periods can cause such serious damage.[6]

Liver Damage

Aspirin is damaging to the liver.[7],[8] Any damage done to the liver directly affects the body’s ability to neutralize and eliminate toxins because the liver is the body’s main detoxification organ. Furthermore, the liver is important for cholesterol production and excretion, immunity, hormone balance, and more.

Suppressed Immunity

Aspirin suppresses white blood cells’ ability to move toward, capture, and kill bacteria. In other words, aspirin interferes with the functioning of the immune system in a way that allows bacteria more of an opportunity to reproduce and grow into dangerous infections.[9]

Eye Damage (Cataracts)

Regular aspirin use may increase one’s risks for cataracts. A 2001 study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology found that using aspirin frequently (180 or more days per year) slightly increases your risk for cataracts compared to those using aspirin fewer than 13 days per year.[10] Another study demonstrated a 44% higher increase in cataracts with regular long-term (more than 10 years) use of aspirin compared with nonusers or infrequent users of the drug.[11]

Nutrient depletion

Aspirin causes increased urinary excretion of vitamin C and calcium. Aspirin also causes a depletion of folic acid, iron, and pantothenic acid (B5).[12]

Not widely known is the fact that aspirin and other NSAIDs can contribute to osteoporosis,3 kidney dysfunction[13] and thyroid dysfunction[14] as well as copper deficiency since these drugs all “work” by combining with copper in the body.3 A deficiency in copper might alter blood cholesterol and lipoprotein concentrations and increase the risk for developing cardiovascular disease.[15]

Natural Substances That Work Like Aspirin – But Better

Food is the foundation

The foundation of overall health and heart disease risk falls on food. When looking back at our dietary changes over the years, the biggest influence on degenerative disease has come from an increased consumption of sugar, white flour, and damaged fats (found in hydrogenated oils, fried foods, and heated polyunsaturated oil), not to mention the corresponding decrease in consumption of vegetables and fruits.[16] A recent study found that many fruits and vegetables are high in salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. They found that the group consuming high amounts of fruits and vegetables had high enough levels of salicylic acid to inhibit the activity of COX-2.[17] For a more specific picture of how food is medicine, check out cherries. A scientist by the name of Dr. Nair at Michigan State University found that 20 cherries contain between 12 and 25 mg of anthocyanins, which are 10 times more potent at blocking COX-2 than aspirin. Nair explains, “If a person can consume around 20 cherries, that’s enough dosage to act like one or two aspirin a day.”[18] These powerful anthocyanins have notable antioxidant effects to boot!

Fish Oils (e.g. cod liver oil)

Fish oil contains EPA and DHA; both are omega-3 fatty acids. These oils have a number of health benefits, but one in particular is a reduction in blood clotting. They also have anti-inflammatory activity and can reduce the inflammation in the cardiovascular system.[19] For people with cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends consuming one gram of EPA+DHA daily, either from fish or supplements.[20] Since fish oil is easily damaged by oxygen, it is wise to add vitamin E to the bottle of oil as soon as it is opened.[21]

Vitamin E

Vitamin E reduces the formation of thrombin, an enzyme that facilitates blood clotting.[22] Vitamin E also protects the prostaglandin (prostacyclin) that prevents blood vessels from undue blood clotting.[23] The most commonly recommended dose of vitamin E for adults is 400–800 IU per day.20

Garlic

This herb inhibits platelet stickiness,[24] and increases fibrinolysis,[25] which results in a slowing of blood coagulation. Some people chew one whole clove of raw garlic per day. For those who prefer it, odor-controlled, enteric-coated tablets or capsules can be taken in amounts of 600–900 mg in two or three divided doses.[26],[27]

Ginkgo Biloba Extract (GBE)

This herb has the ability to inhibit platelet aggregation. GBE also regulates the tone and elasticity of blood vessels,[28] making circulation more efficient in both large and smaller vessels in the circulatory system.[29] GBE, standardized to contain 6% terpene lactones and 24% flavone glycosides, can be taken in the amount of 120–160 mg per day.27

Green Tea

This herb also reduces platelet aggregation[30] and decreases inflammation by inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme. In fact, green tea contains 51 anti-inflammatory compounds, meaning it works on inflammation from multiple directions.2 Drinking about three to four cups per day (providing 240–320 mg of polyphenols) may be helpful.[31] To brew green tea, combine 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of the leaves with 1 cup hot water and steep for three minutes. Sip it throughout the day. If drinking tea does not fit into your daily routine, consider supplementing with a green tea extract.

Turmeric

This culinary spice has been shown to reduce platelets from clumping together (by inhibiting thromboxane).[32] It also inhibits the inflammatory effects of the COX-2 enzyme.2 A standardized extract of turmeric supplying 400–600 mg of curcumin, the active constituent, can be taken three times per day in capsules or tablets.31 Turmeric as a spice can also be incorporated into the diet.

Rosemary

Rosmarinic acid is just one of the compounds found in this herb that inhibits thromboxane, thus actively reducing platelet aggregation. This powerful compound also reduces inflammation in the body by inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme.2 Use an extract of the whole herb and follow the directions on the bottle. A tea can be prepared by adding 2 teaspoons (10 grams) of herb to 1 cup hot water and allowing it to steep in a covered container for ten to fifteen minutes.20

Ginger

This strong tasting herb helps restore healthy platelet function by inhibiting thromboxane and balances the production of inflammatory prostaglandins by inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme.2 Some herbalists suggest the use of 2–4 grams of the dried rhizome powder two to three times per day or a tincture of 1.5–3 ml three times daily.20 Also, incorporate this herb into meals and beverages.

Other herbs with reported COX-2 inhibiting properties include skullcap, feverfew, holy basil, nettle leaf, and oregano.[33]

One overwhelming benefit of these natural substances is that they do not have any of the negative effects associated with aspirin. In fact, these compounds reduce one’s risk of stomach lining and liver damage and ulcer formation as well as boost immunity and provide nutrients2 – the exact opposite of aspirin.

Remember, drugs are used to treat symptoms, not cure the underlying problem. The more we investigate the workings of drugs, the more side effects we tend to find – even with the medications like aspirin that have been around for so long. Sticky blood and inflammation has a cause. Finding the cause is the first step in dealing with and healing your condition. Then evaluate your lifestyle choices, like diet, exercise, and stress management habits. Finally, consider incorporating natural nutrients into your supplement regimen (preferably working with a holistic practitioner) to get the desired results.

Caution

Since the nutrients mentioned above do affect blood clotting, do not take them if you are taking coumadin or other prescription blood thinners.3 This article is not meant to replace a physician’s recommendations. It is to help educate and inspire its readers on ways to make better health care choices. Talk with your doctor if you are taking aspirin or other medications before trying to incorporate or substitute any of the above options.


References

[1] Newmark, Thomas M. & Schulick, Paul. Beyond Aspirin. Hohm Press. Prescott, AZ. 2000.

[2] Wright, Jonathan, Dr. Under Oath: The Whole Truth About Drug Ads. Nutrition and Healing. Vol 8, Issue 7. July 2001.

[3] Brooks, PM, Potter S R, and Buchanan W W:  NSAID and osteoarthritis – help or hindrance? J Rheumatol 9:3-5, 1982.

[4] Nordenberg, Tamar.’ An Aspirin a Day’…Just another Cliché’? FDA Consumer Magazine.1999.

[5] Murray, Michael, N.D. Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drugs. Quill William Morrow. New York. 1994.

[6] British Medical Journal November 11, 2000; 321: 1170-1171, 1183-1187.

[7] Freeland, G.R., et al. 1988. Hepatic safety of two analgesics used over the counter: ibuprofen and aspirin. Clin. Pharmacol. Ther. 43: 473-79.

[8] Prescott, L.F. 1986. “Effects of non-narcotic analgesics on the liver.” Drugs 32: 129-47.

[9] Huemer, Richard, MD. & Challem, Jack. Guide to Beating the Supergerms. Pocket Books, 1997.

[10] WG Christens et al. Aspirin use and risk of cataract in posttrial follow-up of physicians health study I. Archives of Ophthalmology 2001 119: 405-412.

[11] Cumming RG, Mitchell P., Medications and cataract. The Blue Mountains Eye Study. Ophthalmology 1998;105:1751-1758.

[12] Pelton, Ross. R.PH, LaValle, James. R.PH. The Nutritional Cost of Prescription Drugs. Morton Publishing Company. Englewood, CO. 2000.

[13] Journal of the American Geriatrics Society May, 1999;47:507-511.

[14] Langer, Stephen. M.D. Solved: The Riddle of Illness. Keats Publishing. Los Angles, CA. 2000.

[15] Garrison, Robert, M.A., R. Ph. and Elizabeth Somer, M.D., R.D. The Nutrition Desk Reference. Third Edition. Keats Publishing, Inc. New Canaan, Connecticut. 1995.

[16] Misner, Ph.D. Suicide With A Spoon . E-CAPS Inc. & Hammer Nutrition Ltd found at www.mercola.com on July 9th 2001.

[17] Blacklock, CJ, Lawrence, JR, Wiles, D, et al. Salicylic acid in the serum of subjects not taking aspirin. Comparison of salicylic acid concentrations in the serum of vegetarians, non-vegetarians, and patients taking low dose aspirin. Journal of Clinical Pathology. 2001; 54:553-555.

[18] Wang H, Muraleedharan N, et al. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of anthocyanins and their aglycon cyaniding from tart cherries. J. Nat. Prod. May; 62 (5): 802. 1999.

[19] Healthnotes. Online, Inc. 1505 SE Gideon St., Suite 200, Portland, OR 97202, www.healthnotes.com. 1999. Author are Lininger, Skye, D.C., Wright, Jonathan, M.D., Austin, Steve, N.D., Brown, Donald, N.D. & Gaby, Alan, M.D. Fish Oils. 1999.

[20] Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease, Circulation 2002; 106:2747-2757.

[21] Piche LA, Draper HH, Cole PD. Malondialdehyde excretion by subjects consuming cod liver oil vs a concentrate of n-3 fatty acids. Lipids 1988;23:370–71.

[22] Dunne, Lavon. Nutrition Almanac. Fourth Edition. McGraw-Hill, New York. 1996

[23] Sharon, Michael Dr. Complete Nutrition. Avery Publishing Group Inc. Garden City Park, NY. 1994.

[24] Barrie SA, et al. Effects of garlic oil on platelet aggregation, serum lipids and blood pressure. J Orthomol Med 1987 ;36(4):766-8.

[25] Legnani C, Frascaro M, et al. Effects of a dried garlic preparation on fibrinolysis and platelet aggregation in healthy subjects. Arzneim-Forsch Drug Res 1993;43:119–22.

[26] Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 97–109.

[27] Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al, eds. The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 134.

[28] Clostre F. From the body to the cellular membranes: the different levels of pharmacological action of Ginkgo biloba extract. In Rokan (Ginkgo biloba): Recent Results in Pharmacology and Clinic, ed. EW Fünfgeld. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1988, 180–98.

[29] Jung F, Mrowietz C, et al. Effect of Ginkgo biloba on fluidity of blood and peripheral microcirculation in volunteers. Arzneim-Forsch Drug Res 1990;40:589–93.

[30] Sagesaka-Mitane Y, Milwa M, Okada S. Platelet aggregation inhibitors in hot water extract of green tea. Chem Pharm Bull 1990;38(3):790–93.

[31] Murray MT. The Healing Power of Herbs. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1995, 192–96.

[32] Srivastava R, Dikshit M, Srimal RC, Dhawan BN. Anti-thrombotic effect of curcumin. Thromb Res 1985;40:413–17.

[33] LaValle, James. R.Ph, N.M.D., C.C.M. The COX-2 Connection. Healing Arts Press. Rochester, Vermont. 2001.

Updated 11/02