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Aspirin Continues To Astound Researchers

For more than 100 years aspirin has been a staple in medicine cabinets all around the world. At pennies a pill, it remains the best bargain in the drug store. Amazingly, even after all this time aspirin continues to astound researchers with its power against heart disease and cancer.
A study of more than 5000 patients in 70 medical centers around the world shows that aspirin can dramatically reduce the risk of complications from coronary artery bypass surgery (New England Journal of Medicine, Oct. 24, 2002).
Patients who undergo such a procedure are vulnerable to post-surgical heart attacks, strokes, kidney problems and intestinal damage. Aspirin, even in low doses (baby aspirin), produced startling benefits that are unavailable from prescription medicines. Side effects, such as bleeding, were less common than expected.
Aspirin has long been recognized for its ability to prevent heart attacks and strokes but it wasn’t given after surgery. Now cardiac surgeons will be adopting this simple and inexpensive approach to saving their patients’ lives.
Aspirin is also saving lives by preventing cancer. Over the last few years, preliminary studies have suggested that aspirin reduces the likelihood of developing pancreatic, ovarian, lung, prostate, breast and colon cancer.
No other drug has such a wide range of potential benefits. Along with heart disease, these cancers kill more Americans than any other condition. Although we don’t understand exactly how aspirin works to suppress the growth of abnormal cells, its anti-inflammatory properties may be responsible.
This same ability to fight inflammation could account for another extraordinary benefit of aspirin. A recent study showed that long-term use of aspirin or other anti-inflammatory pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen helped protect elderly people from Alzheimer’s disease (Neurology, Sept. 24, 2002).
The thousands of participants in that study appeared to reap this advantage from pain relievers only if they had been taking them for several years.
Aspirin is not appropriate for everyone. Children and teens with the flu or chickenpox must not be given aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but deadly complication.
Aspirin can cause stomach irritation or even ulcers. It can also interact with many other medications.
To learn more about the pros and cons of aspirin, as well as interactions, you may wish to review our Guide to Key Aspirin Information.

The biggest problem with aspirin is that people who could benefit don’t take it. This inexpensive pain medicine is so readily available that physicians and patients often overlook it in favor of more expensive prescription medicines.
If a new compound were introduced today that could reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, it would be heralded as a miracle. The manufacturer could charge $10 a pill and even at that price it would be considered a bargain. Maybe it’s time to accord a true bargain a bit more respect.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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