Q. My husband takes a baby aspirin every day on the advice of his doctor. He wants me to do the same, but I am afraid to. Years ago, before I met him, I had a frightening allergic reaction to aspirin. Is there any other way to get the heart protection aspirin gives him? I'd prefer a natural product if possible.
A. People allergic to aspirin risk a life-threatening reaction if they are exposed to this drug. Others find that even small doses can be irritating to the digestive tract.
Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid. There are certain foods that contain salicylates, related compounds that might have some of aspirin's benefits without the complications. Including foods such as apples, cherries, grapes, prunes, tomatoes and strawberries in your diet might provide a beneficial dose of salicylate.
Wine and tea also contain antioxidant compounds called flavonoids that might provide cardiovascular protection. Surprisingly, so do cocoa and chocolate. Researchers report in this month's edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that the antioxidants in cocoa might reduce the risk of a blood clot.
The scientists used Cocoapro, made by the Mars candy company, which paid for the research. It is richer in flavonoids than ordinary cocoa. After drinking this cocoa beverage, the subjects' blood was slower to clot, much as if they had taken a low dose of aspirin.
Q. I have adopted a vegetarian diet, but now I am experiencing a burning sensation or numbness on the right side of my tongue. This happened once before, many years ago, when I was single and did not eat well. Have you ever heard of such a symptom?
A. A burning tongue might signal a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Since this crucial vitamin is not found in plant sources, strict vegetarians might be susceptible to a shortage. A lack of vitamin B-12 can affect the nerves and will eventually show up on a blood test.
Please ask your doctor to check for this, since the deficiency can be serious. Luckily, taking a B-12 supplement might be enough to correct the problem, if this is indeed the explanation for your burning tongue.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of the People's Pharmacy, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717, or e-mail them at their Web site (www.peoplespharmacy.com) on the HealthCentral.com network.