|Magic medicine?||Jul. 2, 2012|
|Written by: Marilyn Linton, QMI Agency|
|Study says aspirin, so-called pill of the century, has new risks|
Probably every home in Canada has Aspirin in the medicine chest. But with all the confusing information surrounding it in the past few years most of us wonder: Is it potentially a wonder drug or harmful? Is it an old dog with new tricks or the roller coaster of medicines? And while we take it for granted and take it a lot (sales topped $1.1 billion in 2007) what exactly is it?
According to 100 years of Aspirin, published by Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, aspirin (composed of acetylsalicylic acid or ASA) is derived from the bark of the white willow tree whose extract was used as far back as 400 BC by Hippocrates and was reported as an actual fever reducer in England in 1763.
But fevers, pains and headaches weren’t its only strengths. Over its first 100 years, hundreds of studies demonstrated that aspirin reduced the risk of suffering a second heart attack. In 1989 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force endorsed it as heart attack prevention for men over 40. According to the Harvard University Family Health Guide, unless told differently by a doctor or paramedic, chewing an aspirin on the way to the hospital when you’re having a heart attack may help to break up a possible blood clot and decrease potential damage to the heart.
Explaining aspirin’s anti-inflammatory and pain relief mechanism earned a Nobel Prize for scientist Sir John Vane, whose discovery opened the door to pain research. But aspirin’s side effects of potential stomach bleeding dampened many pain doctors’ enthusiasm. Then, in the late '90s, aspirin began to look like the comeback kid when the New England Journal of Medicine reported that women who took four to six aspirins a week for 20 years reduced their risk of developing colon cancer.
“We’ve known for some time that a baby aspirin a day can help prevent blood clots and stave off a heart attack or stroke,” Dr. David Agus told me in an interview. “But now British researchers have found that a small, 75 mg dose of aspirin taken daily for at least five years reduces risk of dying from common cancers roughly 10 to 60%.”
In his bestselling book The End of Illness, Dr. Agus says it’s “exciting to know that we might already have an effective cancer-battling drug on hand in our medicine cabinets.” Recent studies, published in March in the Lancet (a British medical journal) note a decrease in gastrointestinal, prostate, lung, colorectal and esophageal cancers in people taking regular aspirin.
The studies’ researchers at Oxford University in England explained that the mechanism responsible for reducing cancer seemed to be aspirin’s suppression of inflammation, which is believed to play a role in cancer, and its inhibition of COX-2, an enzyme that helps tumours to grow. Oxford professor Peter Rothwell, the lead author, told Medical News Today that he takes a daily aspirin and that he felt a daily aspirin could be better than cancer screening.
But aspirin’s shining star was clouded by a study published this month in the Journal of American Medical Association. It noted that a daily low-dose aspirin taken to prevent heart disease may actually increase by 55% the risk of gastrointestinal and brain bleeds, the latter potentially life-threatening.
Aspirin may be as old as the hills, and more popular than sliced bread. But there is only a “thin line between efficacy and safety,” wrote Vienna’s Dr. Jolanta Siller-Matula in an editorial that stressed the importance of doctors everywhere paying closer attention to “risks-versus-benefits.” Discuss your risks with your doctor to determine if an aspirin a day is right for you.
Better than pigeons?
According to 100 Years of Aspirin, when word spread of its pain-reducing qualities people began to take aspirin instead of drilling holes in heads or smearing necks with pigeon droppings (both popular headache remedies just a few hundred years ago.)
Aspirin’s provocative protective promise
How aspirin works
According to the Mayo Clinic, aspirin inhibits prostaglandins and thromboxanes, hormone-like substances that influence processes including pain responses, inflammation, elasticity of blood vessels, and the cells involved in blood clot formation.
|MORE COLUMNS BY MARILYN LINTON, QMI AGENCY|