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After 100 Years, Scientists Are Still Making Discoveries About How Aspirin Works

New research shows that aspirin has additional anti-inflammatory activity that goes beyond what other NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen can do. All NSAIDs, including aspirin, block an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase. This enzyme is critical for cells to churn out pro-inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins, so blocking it helps lower inflammation.

In addition to stopping the production of prostaglandins, aspirin also tweaks cyclo-oxygenase so that the enzyme makes a natural chemical called 15-HETE. Ultimately, 15-HETE becomes lipoxin, a compound that can reverse inflammation.

Even after more than 100 years, aspirin continues to reveal previously unknown activity. Perhaps this new discovery will help explain why aspirin seems to be so effective at reducing the risk of many types of cancer.

[PNAS, Aug. 18, 2014]

The People’s Pharmacy perspective is that aspirin can be a real wonder drug if used properly. It does have side effects and needs to be treated with respect. Nonetheless, it seems very useful in reducing the risk of a range of cancers. You can learn more about this topic in our one-hour interview with Sir John Burn of Newcastle University.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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