An aspirin a day may keep more than just a heart attack away.
Since it was first synthesized in Germany in 1897, acetylsalicylic acid, more widely known as aspirin, has been used to treat a range of medical ailments – from the simple headache and fever to inflammation. Aspirin is one of the most widely used medications globally, with an estimated 44,000 tons, enough to create over 1 billion pills, consumed each year. It’s well known that aspirin doses will reduce the risk of heart attack and strokes while increasing the chances of surviving them. Now it seems that this household drug may help in other ways as well.
New evidence seems to indicate that aspirin can also reduce the risk of several types of cancer. Three studies were followed over 20 years where results showed a 31% decrease in all cancers and a 59% decrease in bowel cancer after participants took aspirin for seven and a half years. Most recently, the humble aspirin has offered a great promise that it may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Aspirin does have some side effects. Some opinions conclude that the benefits from an aspirin regimen far outweigh the risks, due to bleeding, in those with average risk.
The side effects of aspirin
When you take aspirin, the level of stomach protection is decreased and you’re more likely to bleed. People who take aspirin regularly will have roughly double the likely incidence of suffering a perforated ulcer or bleeding in the GI, gastrointestinal, tract.
This cause kills more people each year than asthma or cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, there is no simple formula to lower the risk of side effects. When you’re deciding whether someone should take blood pressure medication or diabetes medication, there are clear cutoffs. In the case of aspirin, the decision is multifactorial and requires a lot of thought.
Who needs aspirin daily?
Those who have a documented personal or family history of heart disease, who have diabetes, or who have multiple risks for the development of heart disease, e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol or smoking.
If you and your doctor decide you should be taking aspirin daily, the next question is, how much do you need? It’s good to know that even a “baby aspirin” dose of 81 milligrams is safer and just as effective as the standard adult dose of 325 milligrams.
Taking low-dose aspirin isn’t the only way to maximize the drug’s benefits while minimizing its dangers. For people at increased risk of gastrointestinal complications, researchers recommend combining any aspirin therapy with a prescribed proton pump inhibitor (PPI) such as Prevacid, Prilosec or Nexium.
Enteric-coated aspirin or buffered aspirin do not appear to have a reduced risk of bleeding or other adverse events in the stomach. Sadly these gastroprotective drugs cost a bit more than a couple of cents a day.