New Warnings About Daily Aspirin Use

About six months ago, big, reddish-purple blotches began to form on my mother’s forearms. They looked like the birthmarks you sometimes see on a newborn’s fragile skin. This greatly concerned and perplexed both her, and the rest of our family. At first, there were only a couple of them, but soon they began to spread until both of her forearms were virtually covered with them. They probably covered her legs as well, but it was on her arms that they were most directly visible.

It was hard to know what was causing these conspicuous red marks. My mother is now 81 years old and has had Parkinson’s Disease for over twenty years, so we’ve long become accustomed to seeing all sorts of odd symptoms come and go. But when questioned, even the nurses who care for her couldn’t provide us with any answers. Nobody knew anything for sure.

It turns out the culprit was a little pill that she’d been taking daily for years to help reduce her stroke risk. You might be taking it too. According to the USPSTF (United States Preventative Services Task Force), a full 40% of American adults now take it every day. This popular little pill is low-dose aspirin, and its use is so widespread because studies have shown that its blood-thinning properties may help to prevent cardiovascular events and strokes, particularly in those who are vulnerable.

Except it turns out that those studies weren’t very thorough, and were also too optimistic. Several more recent studies now show that daily low dose aspirin has just as great an ability to kill as it does to save. For, while this common drug did help a small percentage of people avoid a severely debilitating or fatal heart attack or stroke, it also increased the rate of dangerous internal bleeding by a roughly equal amount. So, instead of preventing death, it just changed the cause.

Not only was internal bleeding more likely, but those who took a daily dose of aspirin daily were also more likely to die overall, due to increased cancer risk. This finding was particularly disappointing to researchers, as they’d been hoping to prove that daily aspirin use would reduce the risk of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. Not so.

In response to this new research, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association are changing their guidelines for aspirin use. They now recommend daily, low-dose aspirin only for people whose high risk for heart attack or stroke is outweighed by their risk of internal bleeding, and this will be a much-reduced group. If you don’t have a high risk for heart attack or stroke, you should discuss the situation with your doctor in detail, so you can weigh all the pros and cons together and plan an approach for heart and stroke prevention that works best for you.

For the most part, the emphasis will be on changing your lifestyle, like reducing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels through diet, increased exercise, and cessation of smoking. This may seem impossible for those who have tried, but according to the American Heart Association, nearly 80% of all cardiovascular disease can be prevented entirely through these kinds of lifestyle modifications. We all need to be moving more, and adding more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to our meals. And while it’s always tempting to look for an easy fix, like a simple pill, lifestyle changes provide greater, and more lasting benefits, with no negative side effects.

As for my mother, those red blotches on her arms finally started to go away once aspirin was taken out of her daily drug regimen. It appears likely that they were a sign of hemorrhage in the small blood vessels throughout her body. Considering this new information, we’re lucky she didn’t suffer from more extreme internal bleeding, resulting in death. Instead, I’m happy to report that she’ll soon be celebrating yet another birthday, and when we last spoke, was delighting in all the pretty spring blossoms that have come out with the return of the warm weather. Spring has a marvellous way of providing fresh hope for us all.

Why ‘Triclosan’ Has Become a Nasty Word

It seemed like a good idea at the time. If you have a cleaning solution, why not add antibacterial agents, such as triclosan, to make it more effective at killing germs? It was a really effective marketing tool. Sales increased, and the use of bacteria-fighting chemicals became so ubiquitous that it was hard to find a cleaning solution without them.

Flash forward to the present and the word « triclosan » has become foul. In response to the FDA’s request for more information about their long-term health effects, companies have begun removing triclosan and other anti-bacterial agents from their popular cleaning formulas. This says a lot. In order to keep their popular anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners on store shelves, manufacturers were required to prove their safety, and/or show that they worked better than regular soap and water for preventing the spread of viral or bacterial infections. Obviously, they failed.

If you look over the recent studies about triclosan, you wouldn’t be surprised. Not only have they been shown to damage the microbiome of your gut, but they may also effect the way your hormones work, negatively affecting thyroid functioning. In addition, triclosan has now been found to impair muscle function. In research done on mice, the addition of a single dose of triclosan reduced heart muscle function as much as 25%, acting very much like a cardiac depressant. Grip strength was also reduced by as much as 18%.

Since there is no proof that antibacterial chemicals reduce infection any better than simple soap and water, and since these products are also be contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, why use them? Often, the best course of action is also the simplest one. Find products with the simplest, most natural ingredients available, and avoid unnecessary chemicals whenever possible. When something flashy comes along that claims it will make our lives safer or easier, we’d be wise to ignore it and remember this rule.

The Wonder of Beets

Beet juice looks like blood itself, oozing out of the vegetable as you chop it. It stains your hands, your knife, and saturates entire pots of soup with its vivid colour. The red is so brilliant and rich that it’s commonly used as a natural food colouring, brightening other foods with its vibrant hue. If colour is an indicator of nutritional value, then it’s no surprise to find that beets are packed with iron, calcium, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Really, we should all be incorporating more beets into our diet.

Now, new studies are showing that we have even more reason to eat beets. One study done by the London School of Medicine found that drinking 2 cups of beet juice a day can lower high blood pressure. Another found that beet juice increases stamina, helping individuals exercise 16 percent longer than controls who are not given beet juice.

Even better, there is now evidence that beets may be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Researchers at Wake Forest University recruited older, sedentary individuals, and then divided them into groups. The average age of all participants was 65. One group was given beetroot juice to drink before starting an exercise regimen. The other group also exercised but was only given a placebo. Before and after the trial, MRIs were taken of all participants to see if any changes were made to the brain.

At the end of six weeks, both groups showed improved neural connectivity in their brains, particularly in areas of mobility. However, the group that drank beet juice juice before exercising benefited more significantly. Excitingly, their MRIs showed brains comparable to those of 26 years olds.

Researchers suspect it is the high concentration of nitrate in beets which is responsible for this positive change. Nitrate is converted into nitrite in your body, and previous research has shown that nitrite widens blood vessels and increases blood flow, particularly to areas that are oxygen deprived.

When you exercise, you are inducing a state of oxygen deprivation, and this low-oxygen state stimulates the conversion of all that nitrate from the beets into nitric oxide, which then relaxes and dilates blood vessels, bringing more oxygen-rich blood exactly where it is needed. For the beet juice-drinking participants of the study, this oxygen-rich blood went to the white matter of the frontal lobes – the areas of the brain commonly associated with dementia.

This is not the first time that beets have been heralded, and I suspect it won’t be the last either. In yet more studies, beets have been shown to thin bile flow through the liver, helping to prevent liver and gallbladder problems. Their high fibre content has been linked with a reduced risk of some cancers, particularly colon cancer. Because beets are a good source of folate and betaine, they can also help to lower blood levels of homocysteine, which will reduce your risk of heart-attack. And beets are also a good source of lutein, an antioxidant which protects eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts. If there truly is a superfood, beets may be it.

The next time you go to your local grocery store, seek out some beets and take note of that spectacular life-giving red colour. Treat your body to a good dose of it. It may be the closest thing to magic in a bottle.