Atherosclerosis and Cardiovascular Disease
The Remarkable Lifesaving Benefits of Aspirin
Oftentimes, the benefits of aspirin are overlooked in light of the numerous nutritional ingredients that convey cardio-protective effects. This is unfortunate because maturing individuals can utilize aspirin, along with these nutritional ingredients, to significantly enhance their defense against cardiovascular disease.
Studies indicate that aspirin may protect against heart disease in part by improving endothelial function. In a study involving 41 patients with hypertension and high cholesterol, 100 mg of aspirin daily was shown to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure and to increase flow-mediated dilation, a maker of endothelial function (Magen, 2005).
The heart depends on its coronary arteries for the oxygen supply that fuels this most vital of organs. Coronary heart disease occurs when normal blood flow through the arteries that feed the heart is slowed or interrupted by factors such as blood clots or plaque.
Preventing clots is another way that aspirin helps prevent heart attacks. By irreversibly blocking production of clot-promoting compounds known as thromboxanes, aspirin prevents platelets in the blood from latching on to each other and forming a clot. A platelet has a life span of 10 days, and aspirin irreversibly impairs the platelet's clotting ability. Aspirin helps blood flow more smoothly past any plaque that is narrowing an artery, and if a plaque ruptures, aspirin will reduce the likelihood of a clot clinging to it (Steinhubl, 2005).
Aspirin can also help prevent heart disease through its anti-inflammatory action. Inflammation participates in many disease processes in the body, including plaque accumulation in the arteries (Libby, 2002). The growth of plaque can obstruct blood flow through the arteries. If a plaque ruptures due to inflammation, it can trigger a heart attack.
A 2003 meta-analysis examined aspirin's effects on primary heart-attack prevention (that is, the prevention of first heart attacks). In more than 55,000 men and women, aspirin use was associated with a 32% reduction in the risk of having a first heart attack, and with a 15% reduction in the risk of all major vascular events (Eidelman, 2003).
A study presented at the 2005 meeting of the American Heart Association reported on the lifesaving benefits of aspirin therapy. This study examined nearly 9,000 women with stable heart disease, ranging in age from 50 to 79. During more than six years of follow-up, women taking aspirin were 25% less likely to die from heart disease and 17% less likely to die from any cause. Some women took 81 mg of aspirin daily, while others took 325 mg. The study authors stated that the two doses appeared to be similarly effective, but that higher doses of aspirin are associated with a greater risk of certain side effects, such as stomach bleeding (American Heart Association).
A meta-analysis published in 2006 examined the effects of aspirin therapy in preventing cardiovascular events in women and men. Examining data from more than 50,000 women, investigators determined that aspirin therapy was associated with a significant 12% reduction in cardiovascular events in women. Among more than 44,000 men, aspirin therapy produced a significant 14% reduction in all cardiovascular events and an even more impressive 32% reduction in heart attacks (Berger, 2006).
According to the US Preventive Services Task Force, aspirin's proven benefits are reason enough for people to start using it if they have at least a 6% chance of developing coronary heart disease in the next 10 years. By contrast, the American Heart Association recommends aspirin for people whose 10-year risk of developing coronary heart disease is 10% or higher, as long they have no medical contraindications for taking the drug. A doctor can help you calculate your cardiovascular risk based on factors such as tobacco use, cholesterol, and blood pressure. You can also assess your cardiovascular risk by using online risk factor calculators available at the American Heart Association website.
Life Extension strongly recommends that people who have already had a heart attack (or other episode of heart disease) discuss aspirin therapy with their doctor as part of a strategy to prevent future problems. Life Extension also suggests that people with no previous history of cardiovascular disease—but who are nevertheless at high risk for heart disease—strongly consider aspirin therapy in consultation with their personal physician. The recommended dose for preventing heart-related problems is 81-325 mg daily. Speak with your doctor about your personal needs before beginning aspirin therapy.