WARNING—aspirin advocates are pulling more than wool over your eyes

New research has recently surfaced showing that long-term aspirin use might be linked to a form of vision loss called neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

In this form of the disease (also known as “late” or “wet” AMD), abnormal blood vessel growth takes place behind the retina. It leads to bleeding, protein leakage, and scarring, which can irreversibly damage photoreceptors without fast treatment. Neovascular AMD only accounts for 10 percent of all cases of age-related macular degeneration.

Researchers followed 4,926 participants in Wisconsin’s Beaver Dam Eye Study for 20 years. All the subjects were between 43 and 86 years at the start of the study.

Each subject received an eye examination every five years. At this time, researchers quizzed them about their aspirin use. (Regular use here is defined as taking aspirin at least twice a week for more than three months.)

Results revealed no correlation between regular aspirin use and any form of AMD after five years. But 10 years down the road, the story was different. By this point, there was a clear association between regular aspirin use and neovascular AMD.

Of course, the study authors were quick to point out that the absolute risk associated with aspirin in this case is small. And, they say, it’s not as if AMD is fatal– you know, like a heart attack is.

This dismissive attitude is hardly surprising. But it is just a little infuriating.

Aspirin can be life-saving when you’re in the throes of a heart attack. But regular use is absolutely not necessary to prevent one. There are other risk-free ways to do that. (Like getting more magnesium from leafy greens and nuts, for starters.)

I can’t stress this enough. Don’t let our country’s dangerous devotion to aspirin therapy fool you. Your heart and your eyesight deserve better.

1. Klein BE, Howard KP, Gangnon RE, Dreyer JO, Lee KE, Klein R. “Long-term Use of Aspirin and Age-Related Macular Degeneration.” JAMA. 2012 Dec 19;308(23):2469-78.