Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods

Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods
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Why people eating healthy diets may have aspirin in their bloodstream— even if they don’t take any.

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Inflammation plays a key role in a number of disease processes, including dementia, heart disease, and certain cancers. This is why doctors recommend some patients take an aspirin a day for prevention. Recently, though, researchers found that even people who don’t take aspirin have a certain level of aspirin in their bloodstream. Very low levels, but not all zero. How did it get there at all if they weren’t taking any?

Well, aspirin was originally extracted from the bark of the willow tree, so researchers started to wonder if it might be found in other plants as well. And it turns out aspirin is widely distributed throughout the plant kingdom; plants use it to prevent disease, too.

So, if it’s in plants, what about the blood levels of those eating plant-based diets? Vegetarians naturally have low levels of aspirin coursing through their systems, because they eat more plants—as much as some people who take aspirin as a drug. The problem with taking the drug, though, is that it increases our risk of bleeding—like hemorrhagic stroke. But some studies find vegetarians have a lower risk of bleeding into their brain. So, eating a plant-based diet, one might be able to get some of the benefits of taking aspirin, without some of the risks.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to comprock via Flickr.

Inflammation plays a key role in a number of disease processes, including dementia, heart disease, and certain cancers. This is why doctors recommend some patients take an aspirin a day for prevention. Recently, though, researchers found that even people who don’t take aspirin have a certain level of aspirin in their bloodstream. Very low levels, but not all zero. How did it get there at all if they weren’t taking any?

Well, aspirin was originally extracted from the bark of the willow tree, so researchers started to wonder if it might be found in other plants as well. And it turns out aspirin is widely distributed throughout the plant kingdom; plants use it to prevent disease, too.

So, if it’s in plants, what about the blood levels of those eating plant-based diets? Vegetarians naturally have low levels of aspirin coursing through their systems, because they eat more plants—as much as some people who take aspirin as a drug. The problem with taking the drug, though, is that it increases our risk of bleeding—like hemorrhagic stroke. But some studies find vegetarians have a lower risk of bleeding into their brain. So, eating a plant-based diet, one might be able to get some of the benefits of taking aspirin, without some of the risks.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to comprock via Flickr.

Doctor's Note

For more on naturally occuring aspirin:
Magic Bullets vs. Promiscuous Plants
Appropriating Plant Defenses
Power Plants

And check out my other videos on vegetarians

For further context, also see my associated blog posts: Inflammation, Diet, and"Vitamin S"Fighting Inflammation with Food Synergy; and The Most Anti-Inflammatory Mushroom.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

36 responses to “Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods

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    1. I have a question about pain relief from an injury. For example, I pulled my back today and am in a substantial amount of pain. Is there anything that would help provide relief as quickly as Motrin? I know that cherries are anti-inflammatory, but would they help with the pain as quickly?




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  1. This is amazing! I recall at some point in the last few months a story on the evening news about an aspirin a day preventing certain types of cancers. I never started taking it because I generally don’t like pills and have a history of gastritis/ulcer issues (pre-vegan days). But oh ho ho, another piece of the puzzle comes out. Gotta love it.

    I realize now this is an older video. They definitely did not mention anything to do with this on the news. Only spoke of pills. What a shame.

    I also notice there are no comments on this video. That’s crazy! I find studies like this so exciting.




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  2. I’d like to know if there is a cure for rosacea, i’ve being vegan for over 6 months and i got rid of the rest of my illnesses ( IBS, insomnia) but the rosacea persist and haven’t been able to leave the antibiotic prescribed, i’d appeciate your opinion. Thank you in advance




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    1. I have had the same experience with rosacea worsening while I’ve been very faithfully following a low-fat plant based whole foods diet for the last six months. In every other respect I feel much better. I wondered if it could be because I’v been eating more spicy seasonings, like chili powder and jalapeño peppers.




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        1. B12 is super important. Adults needs roughly 2.4 micrograms per day. In supplement form it comes in higher doses. Cheapest source of B12. Any kind is fine, like cyanocobalamin. I am not sure what b is referring to about acne, but for those who want to avoid cyano there are other types like methlyB12.

          For more on Dr. Greger’s Optimal Nutrition Recommendations.

          If really interested in this topic check out my comment on B12 for tons of information!

          Thanks,
          Joseph




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        2. I don’t have rosacea, but I’ve noticed the following to bring on something of a light, reddish rash-like mild acne on my face: B12 supplements and blended food like smoothies and cashew (and other nut) creams. I have the latter rarely now and stick to whole, unaltered foods most of the time, eating whole bananas and berries instead of smoothies, for instance. With B12, the solution has been simple as well: I use the smallest dose I could find, 50 mcg, and crush one now and then, keeping the powder in a spice jar, and every day add a little to my food, sometimes once a day, sometimes twice. More often if I’ve been forgetting for a couple of days. That way, my body gets the amount it needs without any excess, and zero acne/rash. :)




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    1. The risk of stroke would be seen in those with hypertension from excess sodium intake. Sodium restriction is what is advocated here. Less then 1500 mg per day is a good cap. The study notes that “Nonetheless, vegans have the potential to achieve a truly exceptional ‘healthspan’ if they face this problem forthrightly by restricting salt intake”. The author also notes to increase potassium intake, b vitamins, whole grains, etc. which are classic signs that the “vegans” he is referring to are not the health conscious whole foods plant based vegans which is the diet recommended here.




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  3. Doctors on TV only tock about exercise, no sugar of any form, baby aspirin, statins and never anything about plant based livestyle for prevention. Like a vegan should I still take the baby aspirin?




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  4. It appears that most doctors now prescribe some level of supplement with aspirin, typically 81mg. Do we have science that supports or refutes this?




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  5. My wife and I are both looking forsome clarity regarding the role of Glycine in tumor promotion. Jain et al (2012) published research displaying…“The integrated analysis identified glycine consumption
    and expression of the mitochondrial glycine biosynthetic pathway as strongly correlated with rates of proliferation across cancer cells. Antagonizing glycine uptake and its mitochondrial biosynthesis preferentially impaired rapidly proliferating cells. Moreover, higher expression of this pathway was associated with greater mortality in breast cancer patients. Increased reliance on glycine may represent a metabolic vulnerability for selectively targeting rapid cancer cell proliferation.”

    The findings summarized above really are in contrast to another paper by Labuschagne et al. (2014) that displayed that …. “Cancer cells selectively consumed exogenous serine, which was converted to intracellular glycine and one-carbon units for building nucleotides. Restriction of exogenous glycine or depletion of the glycine cleavage system did not impede proliferation. In the absence of serine, uptake of exogenous glycine was unable to support nucleotide synthesis. Indeed, higher concentrations of glycine inhibited proliferation. Under these conditions, glycine was converted to serine, a reaction that would deplete the one-carbon pool. Providing one-carbon units by adding formate rescued nucleotide synthesis and growth of glycine-fed cells. We conclude that nucleotide synthesis and cancer cell proliferation are supported by serine rather than glycine—consumption.”

    My wife and I both treat patients and are providing information
    regarding lifestyle and disease management to them. That being said, my
    take is the Warburg effect is king when dealing with nucleotide
    biosynthesis. Serine is key in moving the folate cycle in a manner
    fostering nucleotide synthesis for a rapidly dividing cell. Glycine
    itself may indeed inhibit serine hydroxymethyl transferase if its
    levels rise high enough… thus, slowing down or possibly inhibiting the entry of single carbons into the folate cycle via serine… from glycolysis that would definitely make glycine supplementation (bone broths, gelatin, L-glycine supplementation) appear favorable. However, a common mutation in cancer is an up regulation of glycine decarboxylase (Zhang et al 2012)… Now serine is no longer inhibited by glycine AND glycine itself supports nucleotide synthesis… This is where I am stuck… My questions are, do we attempt Glycine restriction? If yes, how do we buffer an excess of Methionine? Do we use Gly or reduce both Meth and Gly in diet? Our
    goal for our patients is longevity/health for those without disease and an
    appropriate adjunct to support cancer therapy in cancer patients.

    Thanks for your time we really appreciate it!




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  6. It is my understanding that the main effect of aspirin ingestion is to inhibit the proinflammatory effects of Omega 6 fatty acids that promote chronic disease. So the ground floor way to reduce this disease pathway is to reduce the ingestion of Omega 6 fats found in nearly all refined oils and processed foods that include them.




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  7. An ethnobotany question. I wonder if this ever came up in the literature. Did poison ivy bother peoples that lived in close contact with nature? If not, is it possible that their tissues contained more of certain phyto-elements that prevented or mitigated the rash? If people who eat lots of plants have more aspirin in their blood, then who knows how much other medecine-like substances they also carry…




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  8. I clicked on the pubmed source, then on another which the site showed as related. It was a testing of urine samples to address this same issue. While it did in fact show that vegetarians have more salicylic acid then nonvegetarians, vegetarians still have considerably less than those on aspirin. So the statement about the latter two “sometimes” being equivalent is a stretch. Notwithstanding, a very interesting article and site all around. Thank you Dr.Greger for posting your video transcripts and your source documents as that is very important to some of us.




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  9. Eating grapes, which are high in salicylates, caused someone I know to bleed in the intestines, and then with a single dose of aspirin, to hemorrhage from the intestines, and later to have a cerebral hemorrhage in the basal ganglia. A scientific idea:
    Doctors should be measuring the blood clotting factors and salicylates levels in patients’ blood before ever prescribing anything even remotely capable of causing internal hemorrhage. Aspirin is ototoxic. Aspirin is a garbage drug. Salicylates accumulate in the body, no matter from what source. Vegetarians may be less susceptible to such bleeds because of high vitamin K content in such things as cruciferous vegetables.




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  10. My wife has to take a blood thinner, warfarin because of a mechanical aortic valve. She would like to take many of the herbs listed in the videos for various things like ginger, kennel, ect but they mess with her INR counts because they have a side effect of increasing bleeding. She and I are frustrated to find foods that she can take without effecting her INR. There is very little info in the videos about blooding thining and would like to find more good info on this subject. This is a subject that needs more time devoted to it because there are millions of people out there who have take blood thinners.




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  11. Question for you Dr. Greger… I’ve never much liked mushrooms and I thought sometimes they upset my stomach– in a recent food sensitivity test they even came out on the severe allergy list (the test that measures not the immediate allergic effect but how it may undermine digestion later).

    Question– can I still take them as a supplement? Turkey Tail is especially beneficial for my condition, follicular lymphoma.




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  12. Hi Dr Greger

    Hi Dr Greger,

    I was at your presentation at Joel Furhman’s nutritarian Getaway last summer and have devoured “How Not To Die.”

    I have an unusual problem. I have substantially reversed coronary heart disease with four and a half years of a strict nutritarian, plant based diet.

    However, it looks as though I may have a severe allergic reaction to aspirin and salicylic acid rich foods. I started getting flare ups of very painful esophageal or coronary artery spasms around eight years ago as an immediate reaction to grazax hayfever desensitization therapy. I’d take a pill and they’d hit be like a hammer.They gradually wore off over the months after I stopped. Then four and a half years ago I had an unexpected diagnosis of Coronary Heart Disease, discovered nutritarianism and have substantially reversed it. However, I have had some nasty flare ups of these spasms since: when I was first put on aspirin – I’ve stopped now I’ve got the disease on the run – and at other times (I’m going through a flare up now) which I have a feeling may be due to variations in my diet.

    Foods I’ve dropped which I think may trigger them: spices ( especially turmeric and cumin), coffee, mint tea, green tea, rosemary, cider vinegar, frozen berries, green apples. My problem now it to keep getting the benefits of this wonderful diet without triggering these spasms. Nobody – my GP, Dr Benson at Dr Furhman’s, my cardiologist or the local emergency room doctor has been able to work out whether they are coronary or esophageal. My cardiologist is pretty sure if they’re coronary they aren’t dangerous as I am very unlikely to have unstable plaque, but I’d like to get rid of them – at the moment I can only treat them with a few sprays of GTN,

    Online lists of high salycic acid foods don’t tend to list many fruits and vegetables. Would you have such a list? I’m dismayed by the suggestion that berries ,mushrooms and pomegranate might be off the menu as they are some of the staples of my diet.

    I also take a LDL lowering supplement form Dr Furhman which is high in green tea leaf extract.

    Many thanks

    Cressida Thomson




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    1. Hello Cressida. I’m a dietitian and volunteer moderator with NF.org and have a couple of thoughts to share regarding your salicylate sensitivity concerns. Dr. Janice Vickerstaff Joneja is widely regarded in her work with food allergies. The following link provides a detailed food list for high/low sources of salicylates: http://www.eatrightstore.org/~/media/eatrightstore%20documents/books%20and%20publications/faisalicylatesensitivity.ashx

      In this link (http://www.foodsmatter.com/allergy_intolerance/salicylate/articles/q-and-a-joneja-02-15.html) which is a Q & A about salicylate sensitivity Dr. Joneja states:
      “Sensitivity to acetylsalicylic acid has also been linked to sensitivities to benzoates and sulphites. The symptoms that develop from sensitivity to benzoates, azo dyes, and sulphites are often indistinguishable from those resulting from salicylate intolerance, because the mechanism of action of these substances is quite similar. Frequently, salicylate sensitivity has been blamed when the sensitivity is actually to one or more of these other food components. Since a low-salicylate diet is so restrictive and may pose unnecessary nutritional risk, it is often a worthwhile exercise to restrict benzoates, azo dyes, and sulfites (predominantly foods with artificial food additives) for a time-limited trial before complete salicylate avoidance is attempted.”

      I hope this helps a bit. Even if you do find salicylates are the issue, remember that there are still many nutritious plant foods that you can eat and that a plant based diet in itself already puts you ahead of the curve for health (as you attested to with the reversal of CAD – wow)!




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  13. Hi Dr Greger,

    Do you have a list of plant foods that are particularly high in salicylic acid and those that are safer if one has a potential allergy? I have substantially revered coronary heart disease with four and a half years on a nutritarian diet, but seem to have unpleasant and potentially dangerous reactions to aspirin, cumin, turmeric and coffee. Most online lists don’t assume people live on fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts the way we do so aren’t very comprehensive. I’ve excluded decaff coffee, green tea and peppermint tea, spices, cider vinegar, green apples and berries. ( I was eating a lot of all of those.) I’m particularly concerned I might have to exclude pomegranates, mushrooms, walnuts, kale, chickory coffee etc as they are staples of my diet, I also take an LDL lowering supplement high in green tea extract.

    Don’t want to give up the life saving benefits of this diet, but my symptoms are flare ups of either coronary spasms or esophageal spasms. Cardiologist, GP, Emergency Doctors and Dr Benson at Dr Furhman’s all say it’s impossible to tell which and they probably aren’t dangerous as I’m very unlikely to have any unstable plaque left, but they’re very unsettling and I have to calm a flare up with a GTN spray. They started with Grazax allergy desensitization treatments eight years ago, long before I was diagnosed with heart disease – hit me like a hammer each time I took a pill – and flared up again when I was first diagnosed with CAD and put on aspirin – which I no longer take. Since then, certain foods seem to trigger periodic flare ups. If you could point me to a list of high, medium and low plant foods that would be great.

    My husband and I loved your lecture at Dr Furhman’s HIlton Head event last summer.

    Many thanks

    Cressida




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