It’s Time to Rethink the “an Aspirin-a-Day for Heart Health” Strategy
Aspirin is probably one of the safest, most used, and well-known painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications around. Most of us grew up with it in the family medicine cabinet.
It’s also true that many boomers take a low-dose of aspirin daily to help prevent heart attacks and other cardiovascular risks such as stroke. After all, our doctors have recommended it to us over the years, and there are countless articles about the benefits.
This is no surprise, because heart disease is the number one cause of death and disability for women in the United States, and it tends to disproportionately impact people over 60 years of age.
Now, however, the benefits of taking an aspirin-a-day for post-menopausal women are being seriously questioned.
What Are the Benefits?
Aspirin can reduce our risk of heart attacks and strokes by making our blood thinner. This, in turn, reduces our risk of developing blood clots that can block critical oxygen flow to our heart and brain.
This over-the-counter is so effective at its job that we usually need to stop taking it several days before a medical procedure, such as dental work or surgery, where we want our blood to clot as quickly as possible.
Most conventional medical wisdom has said that given the proven benefits and safety of a daily aspirin, the worst that could happen with most people would be basically nothing. The general thinking was that taking aspirin couldn’t hurt and that it could definitely help.
So, with the blessing of the medical community, millions of people started taking a daily aspirin in their 40s and 50s and kept right on doing so into their 60s, 70s, and beyond.
Who Can Benefit This Strategy?
It turns out that this conventional wisdom may not have been so wise, after all. Taking a daily aspirin may provide little, if any, benefits for otherwise healthy seniors with no history of heart disease or stroke and may, in fact, put them at risk for major bleeding and even premature death.
Furthermore, there is evidence that a daily aspirin significantly increases the risk of major internal bleeding in seniors who don’t suffer from heart and other cardiovascular issues. This includes bleeding in the brain after a fall, gastrointestinal bleeding, developing an ulcer, kidney failure, and strokes.
One type of stroke, a hemorrhagic stroke, is caused by bleeding in the brain as opposed to an ischemic stroke which is caused by a clot that blocks the supply of blood to the brain. Having thinner blood also makes it easier for you to bruise if, for example, you bump your arm against a door.
If you already have cardiovascular disease, have had a stroke or heart attack, have a heart stent or have a high risk of having a first heart attack, then either starting or staying on a daily low-dose aspirin regimen is something your doctor will probably recommend.
These are cases when the benefits of taking a daily aspirin will most likely outweigh the increased risk of bleeding.
If that’s your case, you should also make sure your doctor knows about any blood thinning medications, such as warfarin or heparin, you may be taking since they may interact with aspirin and increase your risk of major bleeding.
So, whether you are already on a daily aspirin regimen or are wondering if it is right for you, the important thing is to talk with your doctor or another competent healthcare provider and not make the decision to start or stop on your own. Doing so can put your health at risk.
Protect Your Heart – with or without Aspirin Therapy
There are many things that you can and should be doing to protect your cardiovascular health. These include maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation (if at all), managing your blood pressure and staying physically active. In fact, I have touched on some of these here.
Another method that can also make a big difference is being aware of your specific nutrient intake. Diet/nutrition is, perhaps, the preventative step in protecting cardiovascular health that is nearest and dearest to my heart (no pun intended).
What you eat can directly impact your heart health and greatly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. This means having a diet with plenty of antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables.
You should also keep in mind that there are certain minerals that are critical for maintaining a healthy heart, such as:
Magnesium and Calcium
These minerals’ importance for heart health can’t be overstated, and they work together hand-in-hand. Magnesium influences heart muscle energy production, keeps calcium levels balanced, loosens up tight blood vessels, reduces inflammation, and keeps the electrical activity in the heart behaving properly.
Think of calcium as “Fire!” and magnesium as “Hold your fire!” in the heart. Low magnesium has actually been found to lead to worse outcomes in patients with heart disease and a higher risk of irregular heartbeat.
Magnesium is also widely regarded for its muscle-relaxing properties, which may help people with high blood pressure. Low calcium levels can also cause electrical abnormalities in the heart.
Sodium and Potassium
As you know, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease. And if you have high blood pressure, your doctor has probably told you to cut back on salty foods. Reducing your sodium intake can help lower high blood pressure.
What your doctor may not have told you is that a good balance of sodium and potassium can also help reduce blood pressure. The sodium/potassium ratio intake should be less than 1. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of the U.S. population has this adequate ratio.
The American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily intake of 1,500 mg of sodium, but in reality, 99.8 percent of the population consumes much more. One way to lower your sodium intake is by avoiding processed foods, which tend to have alarming amounts of sodium per serving.
If you have questions or concerns about a daily aspirin regimen or your heart health in general, make an appointment with your healthcare professional to discuss them.
While you are there, your doctor may also recommend preventative and/or diagnostic tests to make sure you’re doing all you can to keep your heart and cardiovascular system working at its best.
What is your experience with a daily low-dose aspirin therapy regimen? Did you decide to do it on your own or did your doctor recommend it? If your doctor recommended it, was it because of a previous heart attack or stroke or was it meant to be preventative? Have you had any side effects? What were they and how did you handle them? What else are you doing to be “heart healthy?” Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.
*Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.