Thursday, July 1, 2010

An Apple a Day? Or an Aspirin a Day? Let's See...

Many people have often used the expression, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away". That may not be too far from the truth given all the known nutrients and benefits found in apples. Just look at all of the known nutrients in apples:

And this isn't to mention all of the nutrients that haven't been discovered or those that we know about but aren't sure how they work in our bodies. Want to get all of that in a pill? You're only fooling yourself. Like many other fruits and vegetables, apples really are an incredible food.
Contrast that with the relatively recent promotion of taking an aspirin a day, not for pain or a specific problem, but for disease-prevention, specifically heart disease. While aspirin is very effective at reducing some kinds of pain and inflammation and does affect the chemistry involved in clotting and the production of plaques on arterial walls, it is very poor in the long term for chronic pain and even worse for preventing heart disease. The reason is because of all of the harmful side effects that include:
  • gastrointestinal ulcers
  • stomach bleeding
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • increased sensitivity to pain when withdrawn
Claims that NSAIDS including aspirin are a wise long term health solution are misleading at best.  Remember? 

So why the confusion?

First, aspirin works by blocking the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins play a large role in regulating many cellular functions. For simplicity, you can think of these hormone like substances as falling into 2 categories. One category (that includes leukotrienes-4 series, thromboxane-A2, and prostaglandin E2 ) signal for the cells to behave a specific way, and act as a powerful pro-inflammatory signal, meaning, it stimulates inflammation. The inflammatory system is a very useful and very important system that is normal response to injury or an invading pathogen. When left uchecked over long periods of time, it leads to many of the chronic diseases that 7 out of 10 people in the US will die from, according to the CDC website, including heart disease, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, etc.

The other category of hormone-like substances (that includes leukotriene-5 series, prostaglandin-E3 and prostaglandin-E1) act as powerful anti-inflammatory signals that counter balance the other category's effects. These beneficial anti-inflammatory effects include:
  • relaxing blood vessels
  • increasing circulation
  • relaxes airways
  • promotes anti-inflammatory reponse
  • decreases sensitivity to pain
  • reduces clotting
  • increases protective stomach secretions
  • relaxes muscle spasms
So we have 2 groups of chemicals in the body that balance each other out, both being critically important for health in the body. Tomorrow I'll continue with how aspirin (and the rest of the NSAIDS) affect these two classes, where the confusion lies, and how you can protect yourself even better than aspirin!

-Dr. D

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