Chronic Inflammation...
Heart Attack...

Is Low Dose Aspirin For You?

Low dose aspirin has been in the headlines as inexpensive insurance against heart attack, stroke, and chronic inflammation. But what constitutes a low dose? What are the side effects? And, while we're at it, how does aspirin work exactly?

A little History....

Aspirin was synthesized from a compound found in the willow tree called salicin. For hundreds of years this tree's leaves and bark were used to treat headaches, fevers, and other maladies.

Once isolated, purified, and buffered to be gentle on the stomach, the compound was transformed into a chemical called acetylsalicylic acid. Bayer marketed this product as aspirin in 1899. The product itself has remained unchanged.

How Does Aspirin Work?

That's a question which even scientists didn't have an answer to until fairly recently. For many years the medical community knew it reduced pain, fever, and headaches but didn't understand how it worked these wonders.

Once reason is that the powerful, yet tiny, hormones called eicosanoids had not yet been discovered. A subclass of eicosanoids called prostaglandins are targeted by the drug. Overproduction of certain prostaglandins can cause fever, headache, and inflammation. Basically all the problems we take aspirin for. Aspirin actually destroys the enzymes(Cox-1 and Cox-2) which create prostaglandins. By stopping their production for up to 6 hours this wonder drug works it's magic.

What About Side Effects?

Unfortunately, aspirin doesn't just target the offending prostaglandins. It targets all of them, good or bad. This is where aspirin has it's down side.

The stomach is often a casualty. Prostaglandins regulate it's buffering compounds. Wiping out these hormones can cause the stomach's lining to be dissolved by it's own acid. Heavy or long term use can cause bleeding ulcers which account for many hospitalizations and even deaths each year(along with other NSAIDS).

Even low dose aspirin regimens have these effects and have been reported to account for 33% of these complications. An aspirin regimen should be discussed with and monitored by your doctor to avoid serious complications.

Low Dose Aspirin Regimens

Current strategies for low dose aspirin regimens range from 81mg - 325mg per day. One dose has an effect for approximately 6 hours so multiple dosing may be needed.

The ideal situation for any OTC or prescription drug regimen is to use the least amount necessary for the effect desired. Your doctor can advise you on proper dosing for your situation.

For those looking to combat chronic inflammation, an anti inflammatory diet should be your number one concern. Beyond that, a very low level aspirin regimen(40-60mg/day) combined with fish oil could be beneficial.

Very low dose aspirin used in conjunction with a high quality omega 3 fish oil supplement produces "super" anti inflammatory hormones called epi-lipoxins and resolvins. As little as 20mg taken with 1g of fish oil twice per day may be all that is required. This combo, in addition to an anti inflammatory diet, may provide considerable relief of silent inflammation and conditions such as arthritis.

Tips and Concerns

Taking aspirin in very low dosages will require a bit of effort. Currently the lowest dosages available are the "baby" aspirins at 81mg. (Why 81 and not 80? Good question.) To approximate a 20mg dose you'll need to cut the 81mg pills into fourths with a clean razor blade. You'll find that the low dose aspirins are quite small to begin with so some care and skill will be needed to quarter them. Hopefully in the future lower dose products will find their way into the market.

Enteric coated products are recommended when taking a daily whole 325mg aspirin tablet. This is a coating which keeps the aspirin from releasing while in the stomach. However, do not use enteric coated aspirin for immediate pain relief. The coating can delay the effect of the drug by several hours.

Caution: Individuals with allergies to aspirin or other salicylates should not use aspirin. People with a history of bleeding disorders, hemorrhagic stroke, asthma, or ulcers should speak with a doctor before using aspirin. Consult a physician before using aspirin in combination with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Children and teenagers with symptoms of flu or chicken pox should not take aspirin.

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