This post is the fourth in a series taken from the article by Keith Wassung entitled “Aspirin: Helpful or Hazardous”. This series focuses on Aspirin, it’s side effects, bleeding, heart attacks, and non-Aspirin pain killers. This week’s post provides a look at Aspirin and heart attacks.

A study by the Physicians Health Group concluded that an aspirin a day was an effective preventative treatment against heart attacks. The study was published and carried by leading magazines and newspapers all over the world. The drug industry launched an extensive media campaign promoting this important health discovery.

What the study failed to mention was that it was conducted with buffered aspirin, which contains magnesium. Magnesium is a valuable mineral which has long been associated with the prevention of heart attacks. Follow-up studies revealed that aspirin alone did nothing to prevent heart attacks. Sadly, the results of the follow-up studies received little media attention.

A study in the International Journal of Epidemiology reported that serum magnesium levels are inversely related to the risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Serum magnesium concentration, independent of other risk factors, was inversely associated with death from all causes and from heart disease.7

A study in the Lancet reported that magnesium deficiency may also be implicated in coronary heart disease when it was revealed that injections of magnesium sulfate brought about dramatic clinical improvement in patients suffering from heart disease and in many cases the lipoprotein levels were brought back to normal levels.8

Should You Take Aspirin to Prevent Heart Attack?

The majority of physicians in the USA recommend aspirin for prevention of first heart attacks to almost everyone over the age of 50, even though women have not been included in the clinical trials of aspirin. While aspirin does prevent about 1/3 of first heart attacks, its side effects are so severe as to cause a higher death rate overall than placebo. Non-fatal side effects, such as internal bleeding and cataracts, are significant after years of aspirin use. The major study on which most recommendations are based did not utilize aspirin alone; therefore, the calcium and magnesium present in the buffered aspirin actually taken may have been responsible for some of the beneficial effects. Supplemental magnesium and vitamin E have been shown to be more effective than aspirin in lowering heart attack rates as well as overall death rates. Aspirin does reduce the incident of second heart attacks by about 1/5 when taken for a few weeks. Supplemental magnesium and coenzyme Q10 have been shown to be more effective than aspirin in the treatment of cardiovascular disease.9

“Some physicians contend that the evidence of aspirin’s efficacy for prevention is overstated and that its risks are underestimated. One vocal critic, John Cleland, MD, said that his interpretation of the data shows that the therapy reduces only the number of diagnosed heart attacks, not attacks overall. In an editorial in the Jan. 12, 2002 British Medical Journal (BMJ), he explained that aspirin merely masks heart attacks, producing a “cosmetic” blip in epidemiological statistics. How could aspirin hide a heart attack? Dr. Cleland, professor of cardiology at the University of Hull in Great Britain, said that 25% of people who have what later turn out to be a heart attack don’t recognize the signs anyway. Because aspirin can be an analgesic, it may further mask thsoe symptoms. In addition, he said, some of the symptoms patients think are dyspepsia caused by apsirin may actually be due to a heart attack.”10


  1. Ford, E.S. “Serum magnesium and ischemic heart disease: findings from a national sample of U.S.adults. International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 28 645-651
  2. Williams, R. “Nutrition against disease” 1971, Pitman Publishing Co.
  3. Kaufman, J. “Should you take aspirin to prevent heart attacks” Scientific Exploration
    Vol. 14, #4 2002
  4. Gensenway, D. “Do your patients need aspirin therapy” ACP-ASIM Annals of Internal Medicine,March 2002