Aspirin: The 2,000-Year-Old Wonder Drug

Move over apples, there’s a new sheriff in town. It seems that aspirin—the pain reliever relied on to ease a throbbing headache or aching back—taken once a day in low doses could be what actually keeps the doctor away.

Multiple studies have shown that 75 mg a day of aspirin can cut a person’s risk of colon cancer by anywhere from 17 to 28 percent. It also reduces the odds of dying after a colon cancer diagnosis by 30 to 40 percent.

Popping one baby aspirin a day has also been shown to protect memory and cognitive function in older adults, according to a study recently published in BMJ Open. The growing amount of research is finding that a regular dose of aspirin does offer some protection against the development of dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation, the cheap over-the-counter remedy could cut the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by a whopping 55 percent.

As Americans search for options to trim the costs of healthcare, many are looking to this affordable, ancient remedy as a wonder drug. 

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Aspirin Through the Ages

Officially known as acetylsalicylic acid (or ASA), aspirin’s origins date back 2,000 years. References to medicine (made from salicylate-rich plants such as willow) being used to treat fevers have been found on Egyptian papyri. In 400 BC, Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” recommended willow bark—which is rich in salicylic acid—to treat aches and pains and as an analgesic for women in labor.

Willow bark’s popularity stood the test of time. Legend says Lewis and Clark relied on it to treat fevers suffered during their famous expedition. In the 19th century pharmacists began experimenting with and prescribing chemicals related to salicylic acid, the active component of willow extract.

Modern day’s version of aspirin is the result of German chemist Felix Hoffman’s work in 1897.

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Aspirin and Your Heart

In addition to being beneficial for brain and colon health, aspirin is also good for your heart.

According to the Mayo Clinic, an aspirin a day ups your heart health by interfering with your blood's clotting action. When you bleed, cells in your blood called platelets build up at the site of a cut or wound to help form a plug that stops the bleeding. This clotting can also occur in the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart, leading to a blood clot that can block the artery or prevent proper blood flow.

While it doesn’t completely prohibit clotting altogether, aspirin helps by reducing platelets' ability to clot.

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Is an aspirin a day for you?

Despite its popularity, doctors don’t readily recommend aspirin to their patients or see aspirin as voluntary.

However the mounting body of research pointing to aspirin’s ability to protect against a host of diseases begs the question: Should Americans ask their doctor about incorporating an aspirin a day?

Many doctors do suggest daily aspirin therapy to patients who:

  • have had a heart attack or stroke
  • have a family history of colon cancer
  • had a stent placed in a coronary artery, have had coronary bypass surgery, or have chest pain due to coronary artery disease (angina)
  • never have had a heart attack but are at high risk of having one
  • are a man with diabetes older than 50 or a woman with diabetes older than 60

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Consult Your Physician

The typical dosage of aspirin as a preventive is 75 mg, fewer than a standard baby aspirin. However, many doctors will prescribe 81 mg (the dose of a typical baby aspirin) up to 325 mg, which is a regular strength aspirin.

There are downsides to aspirin, including aspirin allergy that can trigger an asthma attack, bleeding stomach ulcers, and clotting disorders. Before starting a daily aspirin regimen, it’s best to talk to your doctor about your specific benefits and risks.

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