Daily Aspirin and Eye Damage: What You Need to Know

Tuesday, 29 Jan 2013 07:45 AM

By Charlotte Libov

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Millions of Americans take a daily low-dose aspirin as a way to prevent heart attack and stroke. But a shocking new study links regular aspirin use to a severe eye condition that can cause blindness.
 
A top cardiologist tells Newsmax Health that the recent dire-sounding findings do not mean people should stop taking daily aspirin.
 
“Aspirin is a powerful way to cut the risk of heart attack and stroke by 50 percent, and people should not give it up because of a study or two, especially since there are other ways to prevent this form of blindness,” said Chauncey Crandall, M.D., head of preventive medicine and cardiology services at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach, Fla.
 
The aspirin study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found that people who took daily aspirin on a long-term basis had a slightly increased risk of the “wet” form of macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of blindness in older people. There are two forms of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – “wet” and “dry.” Although the “wet” form is less common – it comprises 10-15 percent of AMD cases – it advances more quickly and is more likely to lead to blindness.
 
For the study, Australian researchers gathered data on more than 2,300 people and found that daily aspirin use doubled the risk of wet AMD.
 
The findings should not dissuade people from taking aspirin for heart health, said Dr. Crandall, who added that he has never seen even one case of aspirin-caused wet AMD in his 25 years of practice.
 
“What is more pertinent, though, is that nutritional deficiencies appear to contribute to macular degeneration, so this is what people should be focusing on, not aspirin,” Dr. Crandall added.
 
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Indeed, researchers at the National Eye Institute found that taking high levels of antioxidants and zinc, a formula now marketed under the name of “AREDs,” reduced the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration by 25 percent. The study also found that, while not a cure, it might help people who already have the eye disease keep from losing their remaining vision.
 
The AREDS formulation used in the study includes 500 mg of vitamin C; 400 IUs of vitamin E; 15 mg of beta-carotene (often labeled as equivalent to 25,000 IUs of vitamin A); 80 mg of zinc; and 2 mg of copper.
 
Another way to prevent AMD is to quit smoking. Studies show that current and former smokers are at double the risk of developing the condition than are non-smokers. 
 
Although Dr. Crandall recommends daily low-dose aspirin (81 mg) therapy for standard heart attack prevention, there are a few groups of people who should not take it he says. They are:      
  • People with bleeding disorders
  • People who are allergic to aspirin
  • People who have bleeding stomach ulcers
Another supplement that may help stave off vision loss is DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, which also helps prevent dry eye. However, since fish oil, like aspirin, can thin blood, people who take both may have to cut back on dosage if they notice they have begun to bruise easily. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you start taking the supplement.

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