If you’re looking for a wonder drug, look no further than aspirin. This inexpensive over-the-counter medication reduces fever, eases aches and pains, and lowers systemic inflammation. It helps prevent heart attacks and strokes and, if taken during a heart attack, just might save your life. Now, a new study demonstrates yet another, extremely important benefit of this tried-and-true therapy: Aspirin also reduces risk of death from cancer.
Slashes Risk of Cancer Death
In a study published in December 2010 in The Lancet, Oxford University researchers analyzed data on more than 25,000 patients involved in eight randomized, placebo-controlled trials that evaluated the effects of daily aspirin. Although the original studies examined aspirin’s effects on heart attack and stroke, the Oxford team looked at the participants’ medical records and zeroed in on cancer deaths—both during the trials, which lasted four to seven years, and afterward, for a total of 20 years.
They found that regular use of aspirin reduced the risk of death from cancer by an average of 20 percent during the clinical trials. There was a delayed effect, however. The bulk of the benefits emerged only after five years of daily aspirin use, and at that point there was a 34 percent reduction in cancer mortality. Earlier research has shown aspirin’s protective effects in colorectal cancer. This study, however, demonstrated that it also decreased death from cancer of the pancreas, brain, stomach, and prostate as well as adenocarcinomas of the esophagus and lung.
Equally important, long-term follow-up revealed that aspirin’s protective effects were enduring. After 20 years, study participants who had taken aspirin had a significantly lower risk of death from cancer of the esophagus (60 percent lower), bowel (40 percent), lung (30 percent), and prostate (18 percent, although this didn’t qualify as statistically significant).
Let me make it clear that these folks didn’t necessarily take aspirin for 20 years. Some likely continued it after the clinical trials were completed and some didn’t. But one trend clearly emerged: The longer the trial—and thus the duration of aspirin use—the greater the protection.
The 4-Cent Miracle Drug
I hope you grasp the significance of this study. As the authors state, there’s been little progress in the use of drugs in cancer prevention. And as I’ve written in Health & Healing, routine screening with PSA testing and mammograms hasn’t significantly reduced cancer death rates. Yet, all the while, a true solution has been hiding out in our medicine cabinets.
The dose of aspirin shown to be effective in this study was low—75 mg per day performed as well as higher doses. You can buy a bottle of Bayer low-dose aspirin (81 mg) for just four cents per tablet. And its benefits extend well beyond cancer.
Aspirin prevents platelets from clumping together, which reduces the formation of blood clots that could potentially lodge in a vessel in the heart or brain. Therefore, it reduces risk of heart disease and prevents first and second heart attacks in men and women as well as strokes in women. And everyone needs to know that chewing a full-strength aspirin (325 mg) at the first sign of a heart attack has been shown to save lives. Furthermore, this medication’s anti-inflammatory properties, which are key to its pain-relieving prowess, may help stave off other inflammatory disorders as well.
Seven Steps for Cancer Prevention
According to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database, nearly one in every two American men will develop cancer at some point in their lives, and one in four will die of this disease. The picture is a little less grim for women, who have a 38 percent lifetime risk of being diagnosed with a malignancy and a 20 percent risk of cancer death.
Obviously, some of the risk factors for cancer are beyond your control. However, here are seven things you can do—starting today—to increase your odds of being one of the “lucky” ones who sidestep this dreaded disease.
1. Take low-dose aspirin, 75–81 mg per day.
2. Eat a plant-based, fiber-dense diet with ample servings of berries, leafy greens, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, cooked tomatoes, onions, and garlic. For extra fiber, grind one-fourth cup of flaxseed daily and add it to salads, soups, cereals, or beverages.
3. Drink several cups of tea (black or green) or coffee every day and if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
4. Eat salmon or other omega-3–rich fish two or three times a week, and take a minimum of 2,000 mg of supplemental fish oil every day.
5. Get at least half an hour of moderately strenuous exercise most days of the week.
6. Take a potent, antioxidant-rich daily multivitamin and mineral supplement. Add extra vitamin D, and if your multi doesn’t contain 200 mcg of selenium, take that as well. Also consider curcumin and other immune-boosting supplements; use as directed.
7. Maintain your ideal weight and get a handle on insulin resistance and diabetes.
Benefits Far Outweigh Risk
Low-dose aspirin (75–81 mg) is very safe. Label instructions for regular aspirin (325 mg) cap daily intake at 12 tablets, or 3,900 mg—48–52 times higher than what I’m recommending!
That said, you should be aware that aspirin does increase risk of ulceration and bleeding in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. But this problem usually occurs only when larger doses are taken for prolonged periods, which is why I don’t recommend long-term use of aspirin or other NSAIDs for pain control. It also raises risk of hemorrhagic stroke—again, most often when taken in higher doses—and should be avoided by anyone who has a bleeding disorder. Other precautions include aspirin sensitivities or allergies, concurrent use of a handful of other medications (primarily blood thinners), and, in children, viral illnesses (it’s associated with Reye’s syndrome).
As for some of the other wild assertions floating around about aspirin, they’re just plain silly. I’ve been asked if it’s true that aspirin causes macular degeneration and blindness! No, it doesn’t. Harvard researchers published a 10-year randomized clinical trial involving nearly 40,000 women that found aspirin had no effects on risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Some docs who practice the kind of medicine I do eschew any and all drugs, aspirin included. But I’ve always been a proponent of low-dose aspirin, and with the release of this study, my enthusiasm has increased exponentially. Most healthy people tolerate low-dose “baby aspirin” (81 mg) just fine, and its benefits—reduced susceptibility to cancer, heart attack, and stroke—and minimal risk do indeed make it a miracle drug.
From: Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.