Aspirin, Hormones and Others

Aspirin

This is an incredible chemical with many useful benefits in the medical field. It is a true herb, originally coming from the bark of the white willow tree. Of course, it is an analgesic, a pain killer. In addition, even in small doses it coats the platelet cells in blood rendering them less likely to clot. It has been used for years by heart patients to prevent clots from forming on known cholesterol plaques in the heart arteries. It also can prevent heart attacks in otherwise healthy people. In a large, very well conducted study, 25,000 doctors took an aspirin tablet one day and a beta carotene capsule the next. Surprisingly and much to the chagrin of the Vit-Min-Herb industry, beta carotene, the highly touted antioxidant, was ineffective in preventing cancer. In fact, it seemed to increase the chance of lung cancer in cigarette smokers. On the other hand, those physician taking an aspirin tablet every other day had half the heart attacks as those who did not. Several caveats. First, physicians as a group live longer and have fewer heart attacks than the general population, so the benefit may not be typical for the average person, whoever that is. Second, there were very few females and African-Americans in the group, so we must be cautious in predicting the benefit to others. Still, the evidence for the protective effect of aspirin is so good that it makes sense for some, especially males between the age of 45-79, perhaps who are borderline overweight with a slightly high cholesterol and/or blood pressure, to take an aspirin each day. If you are a female between the age of 55 and 79, an aspirin a day may reduce the chances of having an ischemic stroke.  For both males and femals, the small risk of gastrointestinal bleeding needs to be balanced.  Regardless, if you are a thin female with cholesterol below 200 and a high HDL, the good cholesterol, it probably doesn’t help since you are already so cardio-protected. Further, the very slight risk of a hemorrhagic stroke may outweigh any benefit. Caution – Always clear this action with your physician. If you have a history of peptic ulcers or a bleeding problem, aspirin may not be for you. I recommend the 81 mg, low dose aspirin each day. If you have the patience, you can get a pill splitter and split a regular aspirin tablet into quarters which is 81 mg each – less than one cent a dose! Every 15 days take a whole 325 mg aspirin to keep your blood level at the proper amount.

Melatonin

This is an incredible story. To understand it, you must first know what a hormone and a gland are. A gland is an organ in the body that makes a protein called a hormone. The hormone, in turn, has an action somewhere else in the body. There are dozens upon dozens of glands in the body, each making its own genetically controlled hormone. The ones most people know about are the thyroid, (thyroid hormone), adrenal (cortisone, adrenaline), ovaries (estrogen), testes (testosterone) and pituitary, the master gland at the base of the brain which orchestrates many of these other glands, again through hormones. All the body’s glands and hormones work together to produce an incredibly complex system called normal human physiology – a true Michelangelo, nay, a godly masterpiece. The pineal at the base of the brain is also a gland and it makes melatonin, a typical body hormone. Scientists don’t know a whole lot about it. It may have a role in regulating blood vessels, the ovaries, the gastrointestinal system and even the brain. It appears to be released in the evening and some think it gets the body ready for sleep.

Melatonin has been claimed by the Vit-Min-Herb industry to vanquish insomnia, jet lag, impotence and reduced libido, slow the aging process, prevent cancer and, of course, much more. Naturally, there is very little scientific evidence to support any of these claims. Is it good for sleep? It is probably better to drink a glass of warm milk or take an over-the-counter antihistamine.

The incredible aspect of the melatonin story is how the Vit-Min-Herb industry got its hands on a hormone in the first place. Except for DHEA (see below) they do not sell any other hormone. I am reminded of the stories of the thyroid hormone sold over–the-counter to overweight people in the 1930s so they could “burn” off weight. It caused a hypermetabolic condition called hyperthyroidism which made lots of people sick and killed some. But there is melatonin sitting on the health food store shelf waiting for you to buy it. Would you buy and take thyroid, adrenal, estrogen or testosterone hormones on your own without good medical advice? Yet, the Vit-Min-Herb industry has convinced many of melatonin’s value. The value is only in the industries’ bank account. They claim it as a dietary supplement. It is not. Further, you have the same unregulated unknowns regarding dosage, sterility and safety that pervade the entire Vit-Min-Herb industry. If you think that eating pineal glands is a dietary supplement, we are talking different languages.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have expressed concern about side effects of overdosing on melatonin. Although not clearly proven, these concerns include decreased fertility, reduced sex drive in males and damage to the retina of the eye. So trust your own physiology to keep your hormone system fine-tuned. It rarely needs outside help, especially from non-medical people.  Currently, 2001, melatonin is likely only effective to help with sleep disorders in children with autism and mental retardation or blind adults with sleep disorders.  For the rest of us, it is only possibly and marginally effective for jet lag and insomnia.

DHEA – dehydroepiandrosterone

Anyone who wishes to learn about DHEA should see the above comments on melatonin. The reason is that DHEA, like melatonin, is a naturally occurring hormone in the body. It is made in the adrenal glands which sit above the kidneys. It is present in small amounts in the blood of males and females. It is a forerunner of the male androgen sex hormones. The claims made for DHEA are almost exactly those for melatonin with the addition that DHEA causes weight loss. These claims for DHEA are only loosely supported by scientific studies.  Very few human studies to support them have been done. The Vit-Min-Herb industry has been able to say that this hormone is a “dietary supplement” which is what the law allows them to say. If you think that eating animal adrenal glands is a food supplement, then you could probably rationalize its use. However, no scientist would agree with you.

With the above disclaimers in mind, DHEA, under a physician’s guidance, may be helpful for schizophrenia, erectile dysfunction in some men, lupus (SLE) and osteoporosis.

Are there any side effects to DHEA? Virtually nothing is known about its long-term usage or its interaction with other drugs. Further, since the hormone is a forerunner of the male sex hormone, testosterone, it may masculinize females who take large doses and it may accelerate or cause prostate cancer in the male. There is suggestive animal evidence that the hormone may increase the risk of ovarian or breast cancer. As with melatonin, don’t mess with your own hormone system without good scientific rationale and under guidnace of a physician. Our hormone system knows how to keep you healthy far better than you or the Vit-Min-Herb industry does.

Testosterone

In the male, this hormone declines with age. The Vit-Min-Herb sales person and ads say that taking testosterone will restore vigor, energy, decrease wrinkles and improve your sex drive. Such claims have never been rigorously proven. Furthermore, taking testosterone can promote prostate enlargement, including the growth of small cancers, cause high cholesterol and even fertility problems. Never take testosterone without physician advice.

Estrogens

This is a hormone which has uncertain benefits for the post-menopausal female. Recent studies now question its high use by the older female population. It may keep the bones strong, reduce the risk of heart attacks, restore vaginal moisture and even skin elasticity. There is a slight increased risk of breast and uterine cancer so this hormone should only be taken under physician supervision.

Human Growth Hormone

This is often called hGH-human Growth Hormone. hGH is needed for normal growth. It is produced in the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and has an effect on the kidney, liver, heart, bone and muscles. It is used medically to promote growth in those children who are congenitally small and short. However, its other use is by those people, mostly men, who want to increase their muscle mass. It will indeed do that but current medical studies indicate that, while muscle mass may increase, the function or strength of the muscle does not. This is a true drug and cannot be purchased as a “food supplement”. It must be given by injection and the cost is over $15,000 per year. There are many unknowns about taking this hormone, including increased cancer risk. Until much more is known, hGH should be avoided unless prescribed by a physician experienced in its use.

Pycnogenol

These chemicals come from the bark of a pine tree native to Southern France. The produce contains about 40 different polyphenols and phytochemicals. Naturally, those who sell it report that it has miraculous healing and disease preventative properties. In the test tube these chemicals do act as antioxidants which may neutralize free oxygen radicals in the body, but don’t let that word antioxidant excite you. While there may eventually be some benefit proven for pycnogenol, at present, there is none according to the FDA. Like selenium and Coenzyme10, which are hyped for cancer and heart disease prevention, there is no scientifically accepted evidence for any of these substances. If you want antioxidants, do it the natural way. Cocoa has the highest concentration (Jackson Fiber Cocktail). Blueberries, apples, oranges, and many other fruits, tea, onions and many vegetables are very rich in these polyphenols and phytochemicals. These are nourishing, nutritious, high-fiber foods with proven evidence for risk reduction for cancer and heart disease. Do it the healthy natural way.