The Grapevine

Aspirin, Fish Oils Cannot Prevent First Heart Attack, Stroke In Diabetes Patients

As per estimations, nearly one in five Americans take aspirin on a regular basis. It is the recommended medication for survivors of heart attack and stroke as it can help in reducing the risk of a second cardiovascular event. The medication works by thinning the blood which, in turn, can prevent the formation of blood clots.

But what about people who do not have a history of cardiovascular events? According to new results from a trial with diabetes patients, neither aspirin nor fish oils can help those who seek to prevent their first heart attack or stroke.

The findings of the research were presented at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Munich on Aug. 26. 

In the Oxford-led study, researchers recruited more than 15,000 adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Besides this, they had no history of heart problems and were generally in good health. They were randomly assigned to take one of the following on a daily basis — aspirin, fish oil, both aspirin and fish oil, or blank/dummy pills.

When a follow-up was conducted after seven-and-a-half years, a lower incidence of heart problems was found among the aspirin users. However, this group ended up with more severe cases of bleeding, one of the potential complications of taking aspirin.

Due to blood thinning, there is a higher chance of excess bleeding in parts of the body. If a blood vessel was to burst in the brain, the person will experience a hemorrhagic stroke. In other words, the risk of taking aspirin simply outweighed the benefit.

This is why doctors around the world have been feeling uncertain about prescribing aspirin for people who are not currently within the recommended category, said Dr. Jane Armitage from the University of Oxford, England. "If you're healthy, it's probably not worth taking it," she added.

Since aspirin was out of the question, the researchers looked at whether the other option i.e. fish oil could have a more protective effect. However, this group showed no significant increase or decrease in cardiovascular risk compared to those who were taking the dummy pills.

"This is a disappointing finding, but it is in line with previous randomised trials in other types of patient at increased risk of cardiovascular events which also showed no benefit of fish oil supplements," said principal investigator Dr. Louise Bowman, also from the University of Oxford. "There is no justification for recommending fish oil supplements to protect against cardiovascular events."

The most effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events happens to be the simplest one — a combination of a healthy diet and adequate physical exercise. It also helps to be aware of the warning signs of a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest.