Many of my patients are age 60 and over and as such they have specific health issues. One of their concerns is the healthcare of their eyes and preserving their vision. Recently, I became aware of a study published in Ophthalmology Magazine that warned of people over 60 developing a vision-affecting disease called wet-type macular degeneration.
The study found that people who regularly take aspirin for certain health issues had a doubled risk of developing blindness from wet-type ARMD (age-related macular degeneration). I’d like to share this warning with you as I have my own patients to hopefully prevent anyone from damaging their vision by taking too much aspirin. Also, I’d like to offer some natural alternatives that can have the same benefits as taking aspirin without the side effects.
What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration usually affects people over the age of 65 and is the leading cause of blindness in that age group. It affects the central vision areas of sight required for reading, driving, and just getting around in general. Wet-type ARMD is the advanced form of the condition which develops when blood vessels start to grow beneath the macula of the eye (the retinal core). These blood vessels than can leak blood from abnormal pressure and growth. Other factors that place someone at greater risk for developing ARMD are:
- Age – people over age 60 have 30% greater risk of developing ARMD
- Smoking – thought to increase the risk of developing ARMD
- Obesity – research shows a link between obesity and development of ARMD
- Race – higher in Caucasian people
- Family history – one or more family members with the disease
- Diet – lack of eye protective nutrients
Aspirin Use in Seniors and ARMD
In the Copenhagen study that I mentioned above, the blood samples of 4,700 men and women over the age of 65 from several countries were looked at. The study measured aspirin use, alcohol, smoking, stroke and heart attack history, blood pressure and socioeconomic status. In addition, the people were also monitored for ARMD. It was found that the people who used aspirin on a daily basis had one-third more cases of late-stage ARMD than those people who did not take aspirin that regularly. Many seniors take over-the-counter aspirin products daily for a number of health issues including:
- Blood-clot prevention
- Inflammation in joints
- Reduce risk of heart disease
- Pain (headaches, joint stiffness)
Even though aspirin can be bought over-the-counter without a prescription, it also carries some concerning side effects such as:
- Gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney and liver damage
- Blood thinning leading to excess bleeding and bruising after cuts or falls
- May block crucial antioxidant vitamin C by preventing its entry into cell membranes.
The researchers of the study cautioned that people who already have AMD should not take aspirin as a painkiller; also people with AMD, who have been advised to take aspirin for other health conditions (heart, arthritis, etc), should ask their doctor about continuing to take aspirin. The researchers were also quick to point out that, even though the study showed an association between taking aspirin and ARMD, the study did not show direct cause/effect.
Natural Alternatives to Aspirin
Even though aspirin has some proven health benefits, I would rather my patients not be at even greater risk of developing wet-type ARMD from using it regularly. Note of caution: If you have been taking daily aspirin for specific health conditions, DO NOT abruptly stop as doing so can cause serious, adverse heart problems. Ask your doctor to wean you off it safely. The following are natural products that have the same effects as aspirin without the side effects:
- Reduced risk of heart disease: Garlic, natural Vitamin E, nattokinase, fish oil.
- Inflammation (arthritis, etc): Bromelain, quercetin, fish oil, Vitamin D3, turmeric.
- Blood clot prevention: Basil, dark chocolate cocoa (unsweetened, baking type), tomato extract (contains lycopene), gingko biloba.
Very occasional aspirin use can be beneficial, even life-saving. Taking 2 regular aspirin at the first sign of a heart attack can help break up blood clots and greatly decrease the damage. However, the risks of regular, daily aspirin use may outweigh the benefits, especially when there are natural products available that I always encourage my patients to make use of first.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.