Our Health Library

Aspirin Alternative

Article by Dr. Zoltan P. Rona MD MSc

Over 50 million people in North America are regular aspirin users and this figure is rising rapidly. Aside from its uses as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent, aspirin has become increasingly popular with the medical profession for a variety of other reasons. Based on published research, the American Heart Association went on record in 1993 as recommending aspirin for the prevention and treatment of heart disease and stroke. The American College of Chest Physicians went further, recommending the use of aspirin for any of the risk factors for coronary artery disease including obesity, diabetes, elevated LDL-cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking and a family history of heart disease. The benefits of aspirin in the prevention of cardiovascular disease are more likely to be seen in those over the age of 50 than those below that age.

The current aspirin fad is fueled by the conclusions of some spectacular studies. For example, peripheral vascular disease (blockages of arteries in the arms or legs) has been shown to respond to aspirin therapy in one study with an 85% reduction in the need for surgery. Studies also show that aspirin prevents new heart attacks in heart attack survivors while angina sufferers have fewer heart attacks and increased survival. Aspirin use has been shown to dramatically decrease the need for coronary bypass surgery as well as angioplasty. The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine even published an American Cancer Society sponsored study which concluded that those who took aspirin 16 or more times each month were 40% less likely to die from colon cancer than those who took no aspirin at all. Given all these facts, one is easily lead to believe that the great majority of the human race suffers from an aspirin deficiency.

So why even consider an alternative? The answer is the side effects and the availability of many safe and effective natural remedies that may, in fact, work better than aspirin.

Potential Side Effects of Aspirin

  • Bleeding
  • Gastrointestinal irritation (heartburn, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Increased gastric permeability and altered immunity
  • Gastrointestinal hemorrhage (ulcers)
  • Hemorrhagic stroke
  • Asthma, chronic rhinitis and nasal polyps
  • Hives (urticaria)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Reye's Syndrome in children
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Hearing loss
  • Vertigo
  • Mental confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Excessive sweating and thirst
  • Inhibition of cartilage repair and accelerated cartilage destruction

How Does Aspirin Work?

Aspirin prevents blood clotting factors called platelets from sticking to each other. It does so by blocking a platelet enzyme called cyclooxygenase. Aspirin, by inhibiting cyclooxygenase, can decrease the production of lipid peroxides (free radicals) and thromboxane, a powerful vasoconstrictor. This enzyme inhibition lasts for the lifetime of the platelet which is approximately 10 days.

Aspirin suppresses the activity of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body known as the PGE2 family of prostaglandins. It thus indirectly increases the activity of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins of the PGE1 family. A natural substance called GLA (gamma linolenic acid) found in plants like borage, black currant seed and evening primrose has also been shown to increase the activity of the PGE1 family, producing an anti-inflammatory effect similar to aspirin. Flax seed (edible linseed oil) does not contain GLA but is rich in linoleic acid which can be converted to GLA in the body to produce these same anti-inflammatory effects. GLA has been documented to lower serum cholesterol, reverse some cases of obesity, clear eczema, lower blood pressure, control allergies, improve autoimmune disease and prevent arthritis.

There are some researchers and clinicians who have been able to demonstrate a direct link between the presence of fungi in the body and cardiovascular disease of all kinds. This is known as the fungal mycotoxin etiology of atherosclerosis(2) and has been promoted by Dr. Costantini and other researchers working for the World Health Organization. According to these doctors, aspirin is an antifungal drug which can go a long ways towards offsetting the negative effects of fungi and their mycotoxins. They believe that it is this antifungal property of aspirin that prevents heart disease, stroke and cancer - diseases all suspected to have a fungal mycotoxin etiology.

Natural Aspirin Alternatives

Aside from GLA which comes directly from evening primrose, borage and black currant seed and indirectly from flax seed, there are many other safe and effective natural substances that can mimic the ways in which aspirin works. It must be stressed, however, that if one continues to eat a lot of sugar, refined foods, saturated fat (e.g. red meat, chicken, dairy products, etc.), does not exercise, smokes cigarettes and drinks alcohol to excess, neither aspirin nor any of the following alternatives can be guaranteed to do much good.

Beta carotene - The best source of beta carotene is whole carrots. Equally good is a live whole food concentrate of carrots. Eating carrots or swallowing live whole food carrot concentrate capsules is therefore better than just drinking carrot juice which in turn is better than just taking a beta carotene supplement. Carrot juice contains beta carotene but it also contains small amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber, potassium, vitamin C and a long list of other essential nutrients. Several studies show an inverse relationship of the consumption of fruits and vegetables high in beta carotene and subsequent death from coronary artery disease. Beta carotene has mild blood clotting retarding effects. Carrots and carrot juice are alkaline forming foods. They lower the risk of cancer, especially smoking-related cancers like lung cancer. They help lower blood cholesterol and are excellent complementary treatments for all skin disorders and respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis. They may also be of help for gastrointestinal problems like colitis, enteritis and ulcers. Beta carotene as well as other carotenoids all help boost the immune system against bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic diseases as well as cancer.

Bioflavonoids - are special antioxidant compounds found in many fruits, especially berries and citrus, vegetables like peppers, green tea, grapes and red wine. Some better known bioflavonoids include catechin, hesperidin, rutin, quercetin, pycnogenol, pronogenol and polyphenols. Bioflavonoids can lower LDL-cholesterol levels and inhibit platelet stickiness much like aspirin. Together with vitamin C in large doses, bioflavonoids are also very effective in the treatment of allergies.

Vitamin B-6 prevents accumulation of high levels of the amino acid homocysteine implicated as one of the tissue injuring substances initiating atherosclerosis. Vitamin B6 has blood clotting retarding effects. Other supplements which lower homocysteine levels include vitamin B12 and folic acid. B6 deficiency has been associated with a greater risk of coronary artery disease, elevated serum cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid are best taken together in the form of a B complex vitamin supplement to fully balance all the B vitamins. Vitamin C lowers high blood cholesterol levels and helps prevent atherosclerosis by directly promoting the breakdown of triglycerides and through its regulation of arterial wall integrity via its essential role in collagen formation. Vitamin C regenerates and reactivates the vitamin E used up to block oxidation of LDL-cholesterol. It helps prevent excessive blood clotting. It is also antifungal.

Vitamin E is otherwise known as alpha-tocopherol. High doses have been shown to retard blood clotting. Caution should be exercised if one is using both aspirin and vitamin E because the combination has a synergistic effect. Studies indicate that supplementation of as little as 200 I.U. daily in men can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 46%; in women the risk reduction is by 26%. Whether natural source or synthetic source, all forms supply the body with at least some vitamin E activity. The natural forms of vitamin E are d-alpha-tocopherol, d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate, d-alpha-tocopheryl succinate and mixed tocopherols. The synthetic forms are dl-alpha-tocopherol, dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate or dl-alpha-tocopheryl succinate.

Studies indicate that the most biologically active are the esterified natural forms - d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate and d-alpha-tocopheryl succinate. Both have been found to provide full antioxidant activity in the body and are the ones recommended by the top authorities on vitamin E at the Shute Institute and Medical Clinic in London, Ontario.

Recent studies indicate that high levels of stored iron in the body (ferritin) are associated with a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. High dose vitamin E supplements can interfere with iron absorption. If you have been prescribed iron to correct iron deficiency, take your iron supplement about 12 hours apart from vitamin E. Iron absorption is enhanced by sufficient acid in the stomach. Iron destroys vitamin E in the body. A supplement of vitamin C (500 - 1000 mgs.) can increase iron absorption by up to 30%. Other good absorption aids include Swedish bitters, betaine or glutamic acid hydrochloride, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice.

Folic acid has recently been heralded as a potent preventive remedy against heart disease. Aside from its ability to lower dangerously high homocysteine blood levels, folic acid appears to be antifungal. It has also long been known that folic acid lowers uric acid levels in the body. Since gout is really the result of a fungal production of uric acid, folic acid may actually be an effective gout remedy simply because it is antifungal.

Garlic is probably the best known herb that lowers cholesterol (by up to 10%) and triglycerides (by up to 13%) while raising HDL-cholesterol (by up to 31%), prevents thrombus formation and lowers blood pressure. It prevents platelet stickiness and has natural anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic properties.

Magnesium has anticoagulant properties which, when combined with vitamin E can produce significant blood clotting reduction. Doctors frequently prescribe calcium channel blockers(2) to treat heart problems. Magnesium has been referred to as nature's calcium channel blocker.(2) The problem is that, in order to correct an arrhythmia or eliminate angina, it usually has to be given at dosages far above those that can safely be tolerated in oral supplement form. The only way to get around this problem is through the intravenous or intramuscular injection route. Many people can learn to give themselves intramuscular injections of magnesium and help reverse many cardiovascular problems naturally. In practice it is always wise to balance magnesium intake with both calcium and potassium. Evaluation of blood and tissue levels can be done with the help of a health care practitioner.

Niacin has long been known to be a potent cholesterol lowering agent. Unfortunately, severe side effects (flushing, gastrointestinal distress, ulcers, glucose intolerance and liver irritation) make it an unpopular remedy. Those wishing to take it should be under the care of a physician. There are time-release forms as well as forms combining niacin with inositol, which are not associated with any significant flushing reaction. Inositol hexaniacinate is the safest form of niacin and produces virtually no flushing effects. Niacin can lower total cholesterol blood levels by as much as 18%, raise HDL-cholesterol by 32% and lower triglycerides by 26% at dosages ranging from 600 -1800 mgs. daily. It too has antifungal properties.

Omega-3-EPA oils reduces cholesterol and prevents platelet stickiness. Good dietary sources include flax seed oil, rice bran oil, trout, mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, cod, halibut and shark. There is, however, some controversy about the cholesterol lowering effects of fish oils, some studies reporting an elevation of blood fats and blood sugar control abnormalities.

Onions have effects on lowering blood pressure and cholesterol as well as retarding platelet stickiness in much the same way as garlic.

Selenium - low selenium levels are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis. Selenium is an anti-oxidant which works in conjunction with vitamin E to protect vascular tissue from damage by toxins. It is also strongly antifungal.

White willow bark (Salix alba) - contains salicin from which aspirin is manufactured. While not as potent as aspirin, white willow has very similar properties without the gastrointestinal side effects at therapeutic dosages. Overdoses can, however, produce toxicity similar to that seen with aspirin overdoses.

Other Herbal Pain Remedy Alternatives

  • Curcumin
  • Devil's claw root powder
  • Echinacea (in very high dosages well above those which control infections, echinacea is effective, especially with toothaches)
  • Feverfew
  • Escholtzia
  • Catnip
  • Combretum
  • Ginger root
  • Licorice root
  • Wood Betony
  • Valerian
  • Wild yam extract

Many of these nutrients are sold in combination form at health food stores. It may, therefore not be necessary to take large numbers of capsules or tablets. A naturopath or medical doctor familiar with these remedies can recommend specific dosages. The world's leading medical journals are increasingly reporting that diet and lifestyle changes by themselves can reverse hardening of the arteries and its complications. Despite all the rave reports about aspirin, there are too many worrisome drawbacks as well. Natural aspirin alternatives are hundreds of times safer. Discuss all this with your health care practitioner and use his or her experience and expertise to guide you with an individualized health program.

REFERENCES

  • Costantini, A.V., Wieland, H., and Qvick, Lars I. Fungalbionics, The Fungal/Mycotoxin Etiology of Human Disease, Vol. 1 Atherosclerosis & Vol. II Cancer. Freiberg, Germany:Johann Friedrich Oberlin Verlag, 1994. Available in Canada from Fungal/Mycotoxin Conference, 12 Sifton Place, Brampton, Ont. L6Y 2N8; 905-450-0445; FAX:905-450-0559.
  • Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, Canada:Alive, 1993
  • Goldstrich, Joe D. The Cardiologist's Painless Prescription for a Healthy Heart and a Longer Life. Dallas:9-HEART-9 Publishing, 1994.
  • Haas, Elson M. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. The Complete Guide to Diet & Nutritional Medicine. Berkeley, California:Celestial Arts, 1992. 
  • Pizzorno, Joseph E. Jr. and Murray, Michael T. A Textbook of Natural Medicine, John Bastyr College Publications, Seattle, Washington, 1989.
  • Pizzorno, Joseph E. jr. and Murray, Michael T. An Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Prima Publishing:Rocklin, California, 1991.
  • Rona, Zoltan P. and Martin, Jeanne Marie. Return to the Joy of Health, Vancouver: Alive Books, 1995.
  • Sharon, Michael. Complete Nutrition. How to Live in Total Health. London, England:PRION, 1989.
  • Werbach,Melvyn R.and Murray, Michael T. Botanical Influences on Illness. Tarzana, California:Third Line Press, 1994.