How to get best results from aspirin, wine
These Q&As are part of a handful of columns that we YOU Docs consider among the most important stories we covered in 2011. Happy 2012 to all our readers. Love ya! — Drs. Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz
Q: I'm allergic to aspirin. What can I take instead to lower my heart attack risk? — Victor, via email
A: Roughly 10 percent of people are allergic to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin. It's nothing to sneeze at: This allergy can trigger breathing trouble and the severe reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be fatal.
Prescription blood thinners do some of aspirin's heart-protecting job, but aren't worry-free. Some require frequent checks to be sure you don't develop internal bleeding.
However, there are other, much safer substances that, like aspirin, decrease inflammation: DHA omega-3s, lycopene, lutein, vitamin D-3, coffee and caffeine (yes, really), small amounts of alcohol, physical activity and brightly colored fruits and veggies.
Protecting your heart isn't all aspirin does. About 12 months ago, impressive research confirmed evidence that had been growing for a while — and concluded that low-dose aspirin can prevent colon, prostate and esophageal cancer; for women, add breast and ovarian cancer to this list. If you develop prostate cancer, taking aspirin cuts your risk of dying from it by more than half, compared to people who don't take it.
How? Basically, aspirin throws the kitchen sink at the disease. It blocks COX-2 enzymes, which help many cancers grow. It also shrinks estrogen production or its effects, starving certain breast cancers. Plus, it seems to flip a biochemical switch that tells cancer cells to die, and to clean up genetic mutations before they turn cancerous.
If your doctor thinks you'd get substantial heart or cancer protection from aspirin, ask about aspirin desensitization, a procedure that gradually exposes you to increasing levels of aspirin. Do not try this on your own. Medical supervision is a must.
If you're successfully de-sensitized to aspirin, take it this way: Drink half a glass of warm water beforehand, then rest afterward. It dissolves the tablet faster, and lets the tablet land in water, which makes it less likely to trigger serious bleeding.
We both take two low-dose tablets (81 mg each) — one in the morning, one at night — and don't miss a day. We hope it's possible for you.
Q: Although there's no cancer in my family, I'm petrified of breast cancer. I'm 56 and not a big drinker, but I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner three or four times week. Is that enough to increase my breast cancer risk? — Allison, Sanibel, Fla.
A: Asking us how to solve the euro crisis might be a simpler question! Here's our latest, best advice.
To drink or not to drink is increasingly the question for women. The answer depends on whether you have any family history of A) cancer, especially breast cancer; or B) heart disease/stroke. You see, alcohol protects your vascular system (think heart attacks and strokes), but inhibits your immune system (think cancer and infections).
You don't mention heart attacks or stroke, but if there's a history of either in your family, we'd tilt toward enjoying a 5-ounce glass of wine pretty much every day. There's clear evidence for women (men, too) that having one drink a day (up to two for men) is heart and brain protective. Since there's no cancer in your family, those benefits outweigh your breast cancer risks because cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women.
If there are no heart attacks or strokes in your family, things shift. In November 2011, impressive research linked even light drinking like yours — three to six drinks a week — to a modest increase in breast cancer risk compared to non-drinkers. (Two drinks a day sharply increased the risk.)
In light of that and the peace-of-mind factor, we'd suggest half a "dose" of wine every night (2.5 ounces). That takes you out of even the modest breast cancer risk group, gives you some heart and stroke protection and lets you enjoy a little vino.
The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz, host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic, are authors of "YOU: Losing Weight." To submit questions, go to RealAge.com.