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A is for Aspirin
and All Its Attributes
the Social Diary Health Expert Columnist Ruth S.
Column #11, April 24th, 2006
The properties of simple things
like aspirin continue to amaze me. Aspirin is excellent
at relieving pain, reducing fever, and it’s an anti-inflammatory
agent, providing some relief from swelling associated with minor
injuries and arthritis. Each year, more than 40 million pounds
of aspirin are consumed in the United States alone, and that rate
translates into 300 aspirin tablets each year for every man, woman,
Aspirin is no new kid on the block. It
was discovered by Hermann Kolbe, a German chemist more than 100
years ago. Kolbe developed it as a treatment for his own father’s
arthritis. But, it’s not even that recent a discovery. Actually
in the 5th Century B.C. , Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine,
is said to have used ground willow bark to ease aches and pains
and willow bark contains salicin, the basis of salicylic acid—aspirin.
Everyone I know takes a baby aspirin,
81 milligrams, each day for heart health. The news is that it
may also protect us from the most common form of breast cancer.
No, aspirin is not for everyone, so check this out with your physician
in advance, but let’s look at what aspirin may do for many
Aspirin, we’re told will protect
our hearts by preventing the formation of potentially dangerous
blood clots. Its ability to lower our risk of heart attack may
be due its anti-inflammatory properties.
Aspirin can reduce inflammation and recent
studies suggest that inflammation has a major role in developing
hardening of the arteries, arteriosclerosis. This is suggested
because there is a test for C-reactive protein, which is a marker
for inflammation. This protein has been shown to be elevated in
some patients who have sustained a heart attack or in others with
The American Heart Association says that
if someone thinks they are having a heart attack, they should
call 911 and chew an adult aspirin (325 mg.), if aspirin in not
contraindicated for them for some other reason. Don’t swallow
it whole. Aspirin can reduce damage to the heart during a heart
Great, but, the results of a study presented
to a conference of the American College of Chest Physicians demonstrated
that people who suddenly stop taking aspirin
have an unexpectedly high risk of serious heart problems. So if
you need to stop taking aspirin, make sure you find out from your
physician how to taper off rather than stopping abruptly and discuss
alternatives to stopping.
Further, while we discussing the heart
of the matter, some research has shown that aspirin may be helpful
in protecting individuals from strokes and mini-strokes that are
caused by blockages in the blood vessels of the brain. Here again,
check with your doctor because in the instance of stroke, aspirin
may be a two-edged sword, protecting us from clot-caused strokes,
but increasing the risk of hemorrhagic, or bleeding, strokes.
The Journal of the American Medical Association
reported another potential benefit of aspirin is its ability to
reduce breast cancer risk by as much as 28 percent. Aspirin seems
able to prevent estrogen-stimulated breast tumors, which account
for about two-third of all breast cancers. This is not really
surprising inasmuch as anti-inflammatory drugs have long been
linked to a decreased risk of colorectal, bladder, and prostate
cancer as well as others. Interesting to note, in view of this
report, another very large study showed that far fewer women than
men are taking aspirin daily or every other day.
So the good news is that aspirin can benefit
us in many ways, lowering the risk of heart attack, stroke, and
some cancers; as well as diminishing pain and reducing fever.
The bad new is that aspirin can interact in deleterious ways with
other medications we are taking, cause stomach upset, nausea,
heartburn, or ulcers. That’s why it is so important that
you discuss taking aspirin with your own physician.
Ruth S. Jacobowitz is a
health advocate, lecturer, and the author of five consumer health
books and a lecturer on health matters. Her newest book
is Final Acts—a novel.
Visit Ruth at her web site www.ruthjacobowitz.com
to New this Week.........Jacobowitz
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