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Does an aspirin a day really keep the doctor away?

Curtis Gregory Perry

A growing number of doctors recommend a daily aspirin to patients who have cardiovascular disease. But many patients still have questions about who should be taking aspirin, and new research about the benefits of aspirin are still being conducted,

This week, “Take Care” speaks with Dr. Charles Hennekens, the world’s leading authority on aspirin research in cardiovascular health. He was the first to demonstrate that aspirin prevents a first heart attack, and the first to discover the life-saving properties of aspirin, both for patients experiencing heart attacks as well as heart attack survivors. He’s held the distinction of being the third most widely cited medical researcher in the world for over a decade.

Click "Read More" to hear our interview with Dr. Charles Hennekens.

Dr. Hennekens says he cannot overstress the importance aspirin holds and has held for a very long time. He notes that aspirin is “as old as medicine itself,” with variations of it being available for centuries. It wasn’t until 1897 that is was first synthesized by Felix Hoffmann, and it quickly became the most widely used drug in the world, being deemed the “wonder drug of the 20th century.” Aspirin is both inexpensive and widely available, and with public health worldwide getting poorer, Dr. Hennekens believes that aspirin will not be going anywhere anytime soon.

“We have an epidemic of cardiovascular disease in the rich countries that now has spread to the poor countries. And in fact, cardiovascular disease in becoming the leading killer in the world, and the export of tobacco, obesity and lack of physical activity in developing countries has produced this epidemic, and aspirin could be a mainstay of treating it,” he says.

The fact that aspirin is available over the counter makes it accessible for just about anybody to use. But Dr. Hennekens believes the decision to use it on a daily basis should not be made individually due to its potential side effects.

“I’m not in favor of people using this on their own without getting the advice of their healthcare provider. It’s only for those whose risk is sufficiently high to warrant the side effects of the drug.”

While Dr. Hennekens believes strongly in the benefits of aspirin, he believes therapeutic lifestyle changes should be the first course of action to take in order to live healthier.

“Regular physical activity, a brisk walk 20 minutes a day or every other day will reduce your risk of heart disease 35 to 55 percent. Maintaining an ideal body weight, the same. Blood pressure control, lipid control, glucose control, all these things should be done in the therapeutic lifestyle area and the drugs should be an adjunct, not an alternative.”

While research has been done that touts the potential benefits aspirin has for prevention of cancers like melanoma, colon cancer and other diseases, Dr. Hennekens said that even more research is needed in order to discover clearer findings.