You’ve probably heard of doctors telling people to take an aspirin a day to help prevent heart attacks. However, a new study shows that when women take low-dose aspirin, it doesn’t prevent a first heart attack.
Low-dose aspirin therapy does reduce the risk of stroke in women aged 65 or older, but it does not prevent first heart attacks, according to the results of a 10-year study of 40,000 women.
The same study also shows that taking vitamin E supplements for 10 years does not reduce either risk. It’s a finding that researcher Paul Ridker, MD, of the Women’s Health Study, says should put to rest any discussion about vitamin E.
“We’ve had seven studies,” says Ridker, “and none have shown a benefit so it really is better to eat your fruits and vegetables than to take a pill.”
Ridker, and colleague July Buring, ScD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, enrolled healthy women aged 45 to 80. Half of the women were told to take 100 mg of aspirin every other day and half took a dummy aspirin pill every other day. The women were given either 600 IU (international units) of vitamin E every other day or a vitamin E placebo every other day.
After 10 years, women taking aspirin had a 17% reduction in the risk of stroke. Yet there was no protection against heart attacks or death from heart disease in women taking aspirin.
Ridker and Buring weren’t surprised about the vitamin E findings. The aspirin results were completely unexpected. “This is the exact opposite of what we see in men – aspirin prevents the risk of heart attack in men but has no impact on stroke,” says Ridker.
The new results pertain only to prevention of heart attacks or stroke in people who have not had a heart attack or stroke.
For people who have had heart attacks, low-dose aspirin is still recommended as a way to reduce risk of second heart attacks, whether a man or a woman. At the same time, the researchers still recommend that taking an aspirin during a heart attack is still helpful, to limit the damage done to the heart.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack and stroke, is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Heart disease is responsible for more than 900,000 deaths annually in the U.S. Aspirin can stop blood clots from forming, and block blood flow to the heart and brain, which can cause heart attacks and strokes.
No matter what, and as always, speak to your health care provider or pharmacist for more information about whether a daily dose of aspirin in right for you.