Aspirin has a long history, dating back nearly 4,000 years when Sumerians wrote of using willow bark for pain relief.1 The ancient Egyptians used willow bark to reduce body temperature and inflammation, and the Greek physician Hippocrates used it to help relieve pain and fever. By the early 1800s Europeans were researching the effects of salicylic acid and how to determine a correct dosage of it.2
In 1899, Bayer begin distributing the powder, and it was sold as tablets over the counter in 1915. Doctors gave aspirin to Alexi Nicholaevich Romanov of Russia, who had hemophilia. The aspirin likely made the bleeding worse. When the family’s mystic Grigori Rasputin advised the family to stop modern treatments and rely on spiritual healing, the bleeding improved.
In an article published in 2010 in CNN, one physician from Harvard Medical School recommended reducing the risk of stomach bleeding associated with aspirin by taking a second medication — Prilosec.
By 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reversed their recommendation, concluding data did not support aspirin as a preventive medication for those who had not had a heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular problems.3 In this population, not only had benefit not been established, but “dangerous bleeding into the brain or stomach” was a significant risk.
Salicylates Found Naturally in Some Foods
In the same year the FDA withdrew their recommendation for daily aspirin intake to reduce cardiovascular risk, one meta-analysis was published showing a reduction and cancer mortality in those taking daily low-dose aspirin.4 The researchers hypothesized the effect was the result of inhibition “of cox-2 in preneoplastic lesions.”
Their results were supported by a second meta-analysis5 published in the same year finding a reduction in nonvascular deaths and cancer with low dose aspirin. In another study published in 2018,6 researchers found data suggesting aspirin is associated with a lower risk of developing several types of cancer, including colorectal, esophageal, pancreatic, ovarian and endometrial.
As New York Times best seller author and nutrition expert Dr. Michael Greger writes,7 animal products made up 5% or less of their diet before Japanese citizens began adopting a Western diet.8 During the same period, there was a vast difference in cancer deaths between the U.S. and Japan.
The age-adjusted death rates for colon, breast, ovary and prostate were five to 10 times lower in Japan, and leukemia, lymphoma and pancreatic cancer death rates were three to four times lower. In part, this protection may have been the result of phytonutrients found in the plant-based diet, including salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.
The highest concentrations in plants is found in herbs and spices with the greatest amount in cumin. Researchers have found eating a teaspoon of cumin will spike your blood levels of salicylic acid to the same degree that taking a baby aspirin does. Greger9 quotes one study describing the lower incidence of colorectal cancer in areas where people eat diets rich in salicylic acid:10
“The population of rural India, with an incidence of colorectal cancer which is one of the lowest in the world, has a diet that could be extremely rich in salicylic acid. It contains substantial amounts of fruits, vegetables, and cereals flavored with large quantities of herbs and spices.”
In another analysis11 comparing organic versus nonorganic vegetables, scientists found soup made with organic vegetables contained more salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is produced by plants in response to stress, such as when they’re being bitten by bugs. Plants treated with pesticides do not undergo this type of stress, and studies show they contain six times less salicylic acid than those grown organically.
Is Aspirin Overrated?
Evidence supports the assertion that a plant-rich diet offers protection against certain cancers. Aspirin used to be recommended to reduce clotting time and the risk of heart attack and ischemic stroke, triggered by a clot to the brain. However, long-term use of aspirin has been associated with harmful effects, including hemorrhagic stroke, or bleeding in the brain when a clot doesn’t form.
In addition to aspirin side effects, results from a trio of studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated daily low-dose aspirin had no measurably significant health benefits for healthy older adults. Instead, the data demonstrated it did not prolong disability-free survival and contributed to the risk of major bleeding.
In one study the authors found those with helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection who used low dose aspirin had a higher risk of upper gastrointestinal bleeding then those who took aspirin without the infection.
In another study12 researchers found those who used aspirin regularly, which they defined as at least once a week for one year, experienced an increased risk of neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Results from a separate study13 also point to a connection between frequent aspirin use and AMD, linking increasing frequency of use to higher risk.
Nattokinase: Aspirin Alternative Without the Side-Effects
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death14 in people of most racial and ethnic groups in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports one person dies every 37 seconds from heart disease and cardiovascular deaths account for 25% of all deaths reported.
Using aspirin to reduce the risk of clot formation comes with significant risk. A better alternative is nattokinase, produced by the bacteria bacillus subtilis when soybeans are being fermented to produce natto. This is a fermented soybean product that has been a traditional food in Japan for thousands of years.
Without using conventional drugs, nattokinase has demonstrated the ability to reduce chronic rhinosinusitis and dissolve excess fibrin in blood vessels, which improves circulation and reduces the risk of serious clotting. Another benefit is the ability to decrease blood viscosity and improve flow, which consequently lowers blood pressure.
Data also showed consuming nattokinase decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure and demonstrated effectiveness in reducing deep vein thrombosis in those who were on long-haul flights or vehicle travel. Studies have demonstrated administration of a single-dose can enhance clot breakdown and anticoagulation.
Each of these factors affects your long-term cardiovascular health and risk for heart disease. In one study,15 researchers wrote nattokinase is a “unique natural compound that possesses several key cardiovascular beneficial effects for patients with CVD and is therefore an ideal drug candidate for the prevention and treatment of CVD.”
Could Earthworms Hold One Key to Heart Health?
One of the drawbacks of pharmaceutical interventions, including thrombolytics, antiplatelets and anticoagulants, is that they interfere with the anticoagulation system and carry a risk of major bleeding.16 Lumbrokinase is a secondary option that works as a fibrinolytic enzyme, activating the plasminogen system and direct fibrinolysis.
The compound also indirectly achieves anticoagulation through inhibition of platelet function. Additionally, lumbrokinase has an enzyme opposing the coagulation system. Research has demonstrated it promotes fibrinolysis but also fibrinogenesis, meaning it may have a built-in balance system that contributes to the safety record.
Interestingly, this complex enzyme is extracted from earthworms and is sometimes referred to as earthworm powder enzymes. Eastern medicine has used earthworms for thousands of years, and Chinese medicine practitioners believe they possess properties to “invigorate blood, resolve stasis and unblock the body’s meridians and channels.”
They are commonly found in a traditional herbal formula used to treat ischemic or thromboembolic conditions. To date, those producing lumbrokinase cannot make any therapeutic claims. Available studies have demonstrated safety and effectiveness in the treatment of acute ischemic stroke and impressive results in the treatment of coronary arterial disease including those with unstable angina.
Lumbrokinase has also been evaluated as an antimetastatic and antitumor agent, with evidence demonstrating a potential use in anticoagulation to limit cancer growth and metastasis. The authors of two review papers found adverse rates to be 0.7% to 3% with most symptoms being a mild headache, nausea, dizziness and constipation, which resolved when the enzyme was discontinued.
Neither of the reviews found the enzyme triggered bleeding or adverse effects in the kidney or liver. Both nattokinase and lumbrokinase have a lower side effect profile than aspirin and provide much of the same benefits to the cardiovascular system. While aspirin is no longer universally recommended, consider speaking with your physician to include nattokinase or lumbrokinase in your heart health regimen.
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