"One a day keeps the doctor away” or so the saying goes. Of course, your Grandmother was referring to apples when she said that. Ever notice that the more time rolls on, the more we realize that Grandma knew her stuff? The modern version of the “one a day to keep the doctor away” saying looks a little different. Now-a-days, the saying really goes… “An aspirin a day keeps the heart attack away!” How many people reading these words right now are under the impression that taking a small dose of aspirin every day will help keep your blood thin or affect inflammation, and thus make you less likely to die from a heart attack? Certainly we read about it in the paper. Our neighbors talk about it and do it. Our doctors may have even recommended it to us. And what could be the harm anyway? Certainly, we all know that too much aspirin can cause stomach bleeding and ulcers, but this is just a baby’s dose, right? What could be bad about that? I’ll answer that question later... but first, let us really explore what the science says about aspirin and its ability to help prevent us from dying from heart attacks. But, to begin with, I have to say a few words about “science,” “scientific data,” and the “proper interpretation” of that data. Far and wide, the most common reason I get from physicians for not using herbs and/or nutritional supplements is because of the lack of “scientific” evidence supporting its use. Occasionally this is a valid reason and further exploration is needed. More times than not, there is scientific data available, sometimes huge volumes (as in the case of garlic for high blood pressure), but it gets ignored by mainstream medicine. The real point, however, is that many medical practitioners rely on someone else to interpret the information from studies for them, studies about drugs included. Very few doctors take the time to get a copy of the full study, read the data, and then interpret the data for themselves. Sometimes the interpretation is left up to medical journals, like the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), or to the companies that sponsor (pay for) the studies, like pharmaceutical companies. Obviously, there are political and financial concerns that can skew the so-called results or conclusions of a particular study, depending on the point of view of the authors or reviewers. Of course, in a perfect world the whole idea behind a study is to find the truth out about a topic. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and it is a well-supported fact that medical science in this country often times has blinders on. And I believe that this is the case with the scientific data supporting the use of aspirin and the prevention of dying from a heart attack. To date, the studies statistically show that taking aspirin does indeed lower the incidence of non-fatal cardiac events… but it does not reduce the mortality rate from cardiac events. How do we explain these confounding results? For starters… can I just emphasize again that in the large, long-term trials after myocardial infarction there is no evidence that aspirin saves lives! And bothersome as this is, aspirin actually increased the risk of sudden death in the same studies. Here are two possible explanations for this interesting phenomenon…
- Aspirin may actually be concealing cardiac events instead of preventing them. Aspirin is a pain reliever, and it is possible that the pain from a cardiac event is alleviated enough so that the person does not realize they are having a heart attack. In essence, people taking aspirin may be more likely to have a “silent” heart attack. Additionally, chest pain may be mistaken for the gastritis that often is associated with aspirin use. These people may be more likely to go untreated for a heart attack, and thus be more likely to “die suddenly”.
- Aspirin is a blood thinner. This may be a reason for the conversion from non-fatal events into fatal ones. The increased risk of bleeding is one factor that can lead to death during a cerebral or myocardial infarction.
- Eat your fruits and vegetables… the more colorful the better!
- Get your exercise… and make sure that you enjoy whatever activity you choose. Have fun!
- Get proper sleep… your body’s ability to regenerate and repair relies on certain “down-time.” (see the article “A Bright Idea...Turn Off the Lights”)
- Enjoy the work that you do… the most common time for someone to have a heart attack is Monday morning… that is no coincidence.
- Consider taking a high quality fish oil supplement… studies have shown that the healthy fats in fish oil not only decrease death from heart attacks, but death from all causes.