Saturday, December 19, 2015

Should you take aspirin to reduce your risk of heart disease?

We know that aspirin is anti-inflammatory and reduces blood clotting.  Inflammation and blood clots are important factors in causing a heart attack.  So it makes sense that taking an aspirin could help reduce the risk.

The problem is that studies have been mixed - some showed a benefit, and some showed not much, if any, benefit.  And there are risks.  Aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding.  And the scary thing is, life threatening bleeds can happen out of the blue without any warning.  So you can actually die from taking an aspirin!  Of course the risk is very small, but there is much ongoing debate over whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

If you are at high risk for a heart attack (for example you have already had a heart attack and are trying to avoid another one), then the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. and you have likely been advised to take an aspirin by your doctor.

But what about people who don't have heart disease and are trying to avoid it in the first place?  The answer is not so clear.

There are many risk factors for heart disease.  Most people are familiar with the common ones: smoking, being obese, being sedentary, having diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.  But there are many, many more risk factors that should be considered as well.

Here are some other factors:

-level of inflammation in your body
-hormonal imbalances (in men and women)
-subclinical hypothyroidism
-chronic low grade infections
-environmental pollutants
-anxiety and depression
-lack of sleep
-lack of antioxidants
-Vit D level

Of course genes play a role as well.

If you have a heart attack when you are very young, say in your 30's, then genes are likely playing a large role.  As you get older, genes account for approximately 20% of your risk - environmental factors account for the rest!

There is no one "gene" for heart disease.  Your personal pattern of genes, and how they interact with your environment, determines your risk.

So back to the question of aspirin.....

We can now measure genes that tell us about your personal genetic blueprint.

A certain gene (called COMT) is important for regulating the amount of adrenaline and similar compounds in your body.  Too much adrenaline is associated with high blood pressure and rapid heart rate, which can increase your risk for heart disease.

If you have a certain version of this gene (which we can test for) then you are at risk for higher levels of adrenaline and therefore are at increased risk of heart disease.  In this case, taking an aspirin can decrease your risk.

But if you have another version of the gene, you likely have normal levels of adrenaline and no increased risk. Taking an aspirin with this gene type can actually INCREASE your risk of a heart attack! Taking Vitamin E could also increase your risk with this gene type.

While most women are scared of breast cancer, the fact remains that 1 out of 2 people is going to die of heart disease.  And most heart attacks are preventable.  It is important to understand YOUR personal genetic blueprint, optimize the lifestyle factors that are in your control, normalize hormone levels and reduce inflammation.

So should YOU take aspirin?

It isn't such a simple question, and the answer is certainly not going to come from large population studies where the statistics are analyzed.  Learning about your genes is an exciting new leap forward in medical science.

At Signature Wellness, we are pleased to be able to offer genomic testing, to be able to personalize your recommendations.

If you would like to have a closer look at your personal genetic risks for heart disease (so that we can modify them!) please contact the office for further information.    704-752-9346  

Yours in Health


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