First the proviso: Aspirin won’t lower your cholesterol. But its effects on blood clotting and inflammation are so significant that anyone with known heart disease, diabetes, or two or more risk factors for heart disease (and no problems taking aspirin) should talk to their doctor about taking a daily baby aspirin. Aspirin acts like WD-40 on blood platelets, making them less likely to stick to plaque in blood vessels. It also reduces the inflammation that is a hallmark of heart disease and a part of the process that leads to the buildup of plaque.
Numerous studies have found that aspirin reduced the risk of another heart attack, stroke, or premature death in people with heart disease, and it also reduced the risk of heart attacks in healthy people. One analysis of four large studies conducted on people with no history of heart disease found a daily aspirin reduced the risk of a nonfatal heart attack 32 percent.
Side effects: Aspirin’s very strength is also its greatest weakness. Because it acts on the overall system that affects bleeding, aspirin increases the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, either from an ulcer or gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), and the risk of a rare but dangerous form of stroke called hemorrhagic stroke, caused not by a blood clot but by bleeding in the brain. To learn whether the benefits of aspirin therapy outweigh the risk for you personally, take the simple test at www.med-decisions.com. You will need to know your blood pressure and cholesterol readings.
Warnings: If you’re taking blood-thinning medication such as Coumadin (warfarin), talk to your doctor before taking aspirin regularly. The combined effect can pose a serious hazard. And be aware that aspirin can boost the blood-thinning effects of certain supplements, such as vitamin E, ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort, and others. (Fish oil also thins the blood, but the heart benefits of taking both fish oil and aspirin probably outweigh the risks.) Be sure to let your doctor know about any supplements you take when you discuss the pros and cons of aspirin therapy with him. Finally, don’t take aspirin if you’ve ever had any problems with the drug,
including stomach pain or allergies.
Recommended dose: One baby aspirin (81 milligrams) daily.