Aspirin's Mostly Unrecognized Connection to Serious Medical Problems
June 17 2012
By Dr. Mercola
It has been more than a decade since I stopped recommending aspirin for the prevention of heart disease. The evidence in support of aspirin has always been quite weak, and over the last decade it has become even weaker.
In fact, it looks as though aspirin, even "low-dose aspirin" (LDA), may do more harm than good. It is debatable whether or not aspirin may have some beneficial actions in heart disease protection.
However, recent scientific studies have uncovered a number of serious side effects that suggest any benefits of aspirin, just like statins, may be overshadowed by its risks, especially when safe and effective alternative measures of prevention exist.
As is true with nearly all medications, the longer we look at side effects, the more we find—even for drugs like aspirin that have been around for more than 100 years.
Aspirin's Effectiveness has Been Overvalued
Nearly ten years ago, Dr. John G. F. Cleland, a cardiologist from the University of Hull in the U.K., wrote an excellent article published in the British Journal of Medicinei casting doubt upon the efficacy of aspirin therapy for prevention of heart attacks.
Based on a series of meta-analyses from the Antithrombotic Trialists' Collaborationii, which is an enormous body of research following more than 100,000 patients at high risk for cardiac events, Dr. Cleland concluded aspirin therapy was NOT shown to save lives.
He made the following main points:
- Antiplatelet activity of aspirin is not as safe and effective as widely believed.
- All large, long-term trials involving people treated with aspirin after having a heart attack show no benefit for mortality. In other words, those who take aspirin don't live any longer than those who don't.
- Aspirin seems to change the way vascular events present themselves, rather than preventing them. The number of non-fatal events may be reduced, but there is an INCREASE in sudden deaths. Aspirin may conceal a cardiac event in progress.
He wrote that the studies claiming aspirin is beneficial are seriously flawed, and interpretation of those studies is biased. In the years since Cleland's original research, there have been numerous studies pointing out aspirin's questionable benefit, as well as its sizeable risks.
More Science Showing Aspirin's Dismal Failure
In 2004, Dr. Cleland published the results of a new study (Warfarin/Aspirin Study in Heart Failure, or WASH) in the American Heart Journal in which he investigated antithrombotic strategies in 279 patients with heart failure. He found that the patients who received aspirin treatment actually showed the worst cardiac outcomes, especially worsening heart failure. Dr. Cleland concluded there was "no evidence that aspirin is effective or safe in patients with heart failure."
Then in 2010, another studyiii looked into whether or not patients taking aspirin before an acute coronary syndrome (ACS) were at higher risk of recurrent problems or mortality. ACS is a term used for any condition brought on by sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart, such as a heart attack or unstable angina. The study found that patients who were taking aspirin showed a higher risk for recurrent heart attack and associated heart problems.
Thus far, aspirin's performance is quite unimpressive. But what about aspirin's benefits specifically for women? As it turns out, aspirin fares no better with women.
In 2005, Harvard conducted a studyiv to investigate whether or not low-dose aspirin offered cardiovascular benefits for women. They followed nearly 40,000 healthy women for a full 10 years. Again, the results did not show any heart benefit from aspirin therapy; researchers concluded aspirin did NOT lower the risk of heart attack or death from cardiovascular causes among women.
Aspirin Never Proven Safe or Effective for Diabetics
Cardiovascular disease is a serious concern if you have diabetes, and a number of studies have set out to determine whether aspirin can offer a degree of protection. Three studies have shown the benefits to be either inconclusive, or nonexistent.
- In 2009, a study in the British Medical Journalv found no clear evidence that aspirin is effective in preventing cardiovascular events in people with diabetes. Results differed between men and women, but overall, they found no clear benefit and called for more studies on aspirin's toxicity.
- Also in 2009, a Swedish studyvi examined the effects of aspirin therapy in diabetic patients. Researchers found no clear benefit that aspirin is beneficial for diabetics but did note that it can increase the risk for serious bleeding in some of them. They stated that the current guidelines for aspirin therapy should be revised until further study is done.
- In 2010, a meta-analysisvii in the U.K. examined six trials consisting of 7374 diabetic patients, comparing the relative cardiac risks for aspirin users and non-users. They concluded, as did the other researchers, that aspirin did not reduce heart attack risk for diabetic individuals.
It's pretty clear that aspirin isn't all that it's cracked up to be when it comes to preventing you from having a heart attack. But is it doing any harm? Well, as it turns out, the answer is yes—in a number of possible ways.
Aspirin Increases Your Risk of Hemorrhage, GI Damage, and Several Other Problems
Routine use of aspirin has been associated with the following problems:
- Bleeding, especially in the gastrointestinal tract
- Duodenal ulcers, GI damage, and diverticular disease
- Increased risk of ER/PR-negative breast cancer in women
- Increased risk of kidney failure
- Cataracts, hearing Lossviii and tinnitusix
In fact, there are studies listed on Greenmedinfox showing aspirin's connection with 51 different diseases! The most well established side effect of aspirin is bleeding, which results from aspirin's interference with your platelets—the blood cells that allow your blood to clot. According to one scientific articlexi, long-term low-dose aspirin therapy may DOUBLE your risk for gastrointestinal bleeding.
You can certainly understand how a bleed is possible, given what is known about the effects aspirin has on your GI tract.
For example, a studyxii done earlier this year investigated the effects of low-dose aspirin on the gastrointestinal tracts of healthy volunteers. After only two weeks, the group receiving aspirin showed "small bowel injuries" capable of interfering with blood flow (diagnosed upon endoscopic examination). And a 2009 Australian studyxiii showed that aspirin causes gastroduodenal damage even at the low doses used for cardiovascular protection (80mg).
The damage to your duodenum—the highest part of your intestine into which your stomach contents pass—can result in duodenal ulcers, which are prone to bleeding. A Japanese studyxiv found a higher incidence of bleeding at the ulcer cites of patients with duodenal ulcers taking low-dose aspirin therapy, versus those not taking LDA. More than 10 percent of patients taking low-dose aspirin develop peptic ulcers.
The risk of bleeding is particularly pronounced in the elderly, which is very concerning as the elderly are often put on aspirin prophylactically to protect against cardiovascular disease. With all of these adverse effects, why risk it when there are safer and more effective alternatives? One of those alternatives is a relatively new emerging field called Earthing—meaning, grounding your body to the Earth.
How Earthing can Affect Your Blood
Earthing may actually be one of the best-kept secret strategies for preventing blood clots. In its simplest terms, Earthing (or grounding your body) is what occurs when you walk barefoot upon the Earth. There is a transfer of free electrons from the Earth to your body. And these free electrons are probably some of the most potent antioxidants known to man. These antioxidants are responsible for the clinical observations seen in Earthing experiments, such as:
- Beneficial changes in heart rate
- Decreased skin resistance
- Decreased inflammation
Earthing has been shown to produce a number of health benefits, including decreasing pain and inflammation, improving sleep, and even slowing the aging process. One very important discovery, and one of the most recent, is that Earthing thins your blood, making it less viscous. This discovery could have profound implications for cardiovascular disease.
Virtually every aspect of cardiovascular disease has been correlated with elevated blood viscosity.
Earthing experts Dr. Stephen Sinatra and Dr. James Oschman measure blood viscosity using a method called zeta potential, which is a measure of how quickly your red blood cells migrate in an electrical field. When you ground to the earth, your zeta potential quickly rises, which means your red blood cells have more charge on their surface, forcing them away from each other.
Earthing causes your blood to flow more easily and your blood pressure to drop.
It follows then when your red blood cells become more electro native they are less inclined to stick together and form a clot. They actually repel each other similar to two magnets with the same pole.
Blood clots don't have to be very big to form a mass that could kill you instantly (such as pulmonary embolus), so this is an important part of lowering your risk for heart attack, stroke, and multi-infarct dementias, where you start losing brain tissue due to micro-clotting in your brain.
This is what many physicians erroneously believe low-dose aspirin is doing for you, and why it's so widely prescribed. The problem is, as you have seen from the studies summarized above, science just hasn't been able to prove that aspirin does what it was intended to do. Rather, studies show that aspirin has several dangerous side effects.
Other Recommendations for a Healthy Heart
The real key to preventing heart disease is to use a combined approach, one that treats all facets of your physical and emotional health. Make sure you are addressing the following lifestyle factors:
- Restrict your consumption of fructose to less than 25 grams per day. High sugar intake, especially fructose, is directly tied tocardiovascular disease.
- Avoid processed foods, preservatives, additives, artificial sweeteners and grains as much as possible, and eat a good proportion of your food raw. Make sure your diet contains abundant fresh organic vegetables and high quality protein.
- Incorporate a high quality animal based omega-3 fats into your diet to optimize your omega 6:3 ratio. An excellent animal source of omega-3 is krill oil.
- Make sure you are getting adequate vitamin D (ideally from sun exposure) and vitamin K, since both are necessary for good cardiovascular health.
- Be sure you're getting enough exercise, and the right kinds of exercise. I highly recommend taking a look at my Peak Fitnessprogram.
- Optimize your sleep, which is essential for every aspect of your health.
- Optimize your body weight and composition, and keep an eye on your blood pressure, blood glucose and insulin levels, iron level and lipid profile.
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