Aspirin hit the headlines recently when a review of available data confirmed what experts have long believed; taking small quantities of aspirin over prolonged time periods can reduce the risk of certain cancers. These latest findings were announced following a study by British researchers who gathered evidence from four individual studies and six systematic reviews on long-term aspirin use in subjects aged 50 to 65.
The analysis found strong evidence that aspirin reduced the risk of colorectal cancer, stomach cancer and esophageal cancer and that there were smaller and more variable effects against prostate, lung and breast cancers. No benefit was seen until at least three years of use and mortality rates only decreased after five years. A small dose of 75 to 81 milligrams was all that was required to have an effect and there was no evidence to suggest that larger doses provided any additional benefits.
A daily dose of aspirin can also prevent heart attacks and stroke. The drug works by interfering with the blood’s clotting action. When the blood vessels that supply the heart become narrowed through atherosclerosis (a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries), a fatty deposit in the vessel lining can burst allowing a blood clot to form, blocking the artery and causing a heart attack. Aspirin works by reducing this clotting action, thus reducing the risk of a heart attack.
Unfortunately, gastrointestinal bleeding and stomach ulcers are a common and potentially serious side effect of regular aspirin usage, the risk of which increases with age. Researchers felt that although this is a very real risk, the benefits to be gained from minimal long-term use far outweigh the potential side effects. Anyone considering using aspirin in this way should consult their doctor however, before commencing self-medication.
Whilst daily aspirin can help prevent a clot-related heart attack or stroke, it may also increase the risk of bleeding into the brain should you suffer a hemorrhagic stroke.
Taking too much aspirin can cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and consequent hearing loss in some people.
Aspirin and depression
A further study undertaken by Cambridge University found that aspirin and ibuprofen could be used to treat depression. Research found that inflammation can influence mental illness as the immune system reacts to injury by reacting to it. Inflammation-fighting drugs could provide a safe, affordable and readily-available alternative treatment to the current anti-depressant range of drugs commonly prescribed.
Scientists say that it’s too early to be certain that there is a definitive link between inflammation and developing psychosis and depression and additional studies are being carried out. Those who suffer from depression and schizophrenia also have a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
The study says that anti-inflammatory drugs might be useful in the treatment of illnesses like depression and treatment with these agents causes levels of inflammatory markers to return to normal. It has also been suggested that drugs like aspirin used in conjunction with anti-psychotic treatments might be more effective than anti-psychotics on their own.
So there is clear evidence that an aspirin a day might be good for your health in the long-term and could prevent potentially life-threatening diseases such as cancer or stroke. Proceed with caution however, and always consult your doctor before taking any form of regular medication.