The so-called "miracle drug" available in every grocery store
in the United States--and why you shouldn't be taking it!
What if you could take one pill every day-a cheap pill available in every grocery store across the United States-and protect yourself from heart attacks and strokes? It seems too good to be true, but this is exactly what experts from Oxford University in England now suggest you do. Their report, published in the British Medical Journal, states that "aspirin therapy should be considered for all patients who are at high risk of heart attack, stroke, and other diseases of the circulation."
The researchers studied the results of nearly 300 trials involving more than 200,000 patients (a "meta-analysis"). According to the report, aspirin therapy reduced the risk of vascular death by about 16 percent and the risk of a "serious illness" by 25 percent. They concluded that in all the high-risk categories, the benefit of treatment far outweighed the risks. Not everyone agrees that "the benefits outweigh the risks" with prolonged aspirin therapy. I include myself among the naysayers.
The aspirin craze: Putting people at risk for deadly uncontrolled bleeding
I will agree that there is indisputable evidence, biochemically, that aspirin has wide therapeutic application, since it inhibits the action of prostaglandins-hormone-like substances that constrict the muscle tissue around blood vessels, carry pain signals, and induce inflammation. So aspirin has the potential to dilate blood vessels (by causing the muscles around them to relax), ease pain, and reduce inflammation. But prostaglandins also help stop excess bleeding. Aspirin inhibits this action as well.
Crediting aspirin with reducing the risk of undefined "serious illness" seems a bit overly enthusiastic to me. It could start an aspirin-popping craze that will produce more disease, in the form of uncontrolled bleeding, than it prevents. That's why I have serious reservations about the current aspirin fad, which is actually driven by doctors looking for that ever-elusive "cure-all." There are trends in science just as in fashion, investing, pop music, and art collecting.
Action to take:
Maybe the "experts" are right about aspirin, but I'm going to stick with my great grandma Bell's advice and take my four cod-liver oil capsules twice a day. Cod-liver oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the risks of heart disease and stroke-the same problems doctors prescribe aspirin for. I've outlived most of my friends and enemies, so I think it's working. RH
"Collaborative meta-analysis of randomised trials of antiplatelet therapy for prevention of death, myocardial infarction, and stroke in high risk patients." BMJ 2002: 324(7329): 71-86
Flieger, Ken. "Aspirin: A New Look at an Old Drug." U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA Consumer magazine), 2/94