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Daily Aspirin A Cure-All For The Over-60s: Not Just For Those With Diabetes

Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Doctors believe that within ten years there will be enough detailed medical evidence to support widespread use of the drug in the general population. They said, however, that until more research was done on the extent of aspirin’s known side-effects, patients must not self-medicate.

The drug is known occasionally to cause internal bleeding and even ruptured blood vessels in people with ulcers and weak stomach linings, which can be fatal. Pregnant women are also warned to be careful taking the drug because it can increase the risk of a miscarriage. It is banned for children under the age of 16 because of its link to the potentially fatal Reye’s syndrome, which affects the brain and liver.

A conference on the uses of aspirin in preventing cancer, held in London yesterday heard, however, that there was increasing evidence of aspirin’s beneficial effects across a range of diseases. It is already known to cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes in high-risk patients by up to a third, while it is also used as a preventive measure against deep vein thrombosis.

The conference was told that there was also strong evidence to suggest that it could help to prevent breast, prostate or bowel cancers, which kill 17,000 people a year.

A study of 1,000 people who were at increased risk of bowel cancer found that those taking aspirin reduced their risk of developing pre-cancerous growths by 19 per cent. Further trials are continuing but initial results are said to be equally positive.

Another epidemiological study of 80,000 women found that those who regularly used drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen had 28 per cent less chance of developing breast cancer than those who did not.There is also evidence to suggest that aspirin can prevent senile dementia, which can affect one in four people over the age of 70. One trial of 70 patients with a high risk of vascular dementia found that those who regularly took aspirin had significantly better cognitive performance than those not taking the drug.

Professor Peter Elwood, the doctor who first discovered the benefits of aspirin in treating cardiovascular disease, said he believed that the Government should start a debate on advising certain age groups to take aspirin regularly. "There’s already abundant evidence of aspirin’s profound advantages to cardiovascular disease, a possible reduction of Alzheimer’s and probable reduction in a number of cancers," he said.

"Should everyone over 50 or 55 or 60 be advised to take aspirin every day? It is a very serious question that needs to be asked and I believe we should debate that question."

Professor Gordon McVie, formerly head of Cancer Research UK, said that the ability of the scientific community to undertake accurate research into aspirin’s effect on cancer was getting ever smaller because so many people were taking the drug anyway. "The window to do placebo is getting very small because so many people self-medicate," he said. "However, we do need to do some work on the quantification of risk in terms of taking aspirin. We need to determine the extent of the side-effects and determine how they compare to the very strong benefits across a range of diseases that we are now seeing."

Richard Logan, a bowel cancer specialist at the University of Nottingham, is investigating whether or not aspirin reduces the size of bowel polyps, which in a small proportion of patients become cancerous.

"I think our views on aspirin will change a lot," he said. "The gastrointestinal bleeding risk is likely to diminish. I don’t think anybody is going to say taking aspirin will prevent cancer but they will say it will reduce the risk of a heart attack and reduce the risk of cancer. Within five to ten years I think it is a quite realistic prospect that we will be in favour of routinely giving patients a small dose of aspirin."

Nick Henderson, executive director of the Aspirin Foundation, which was set up to promote uses of the drug, said he believed that there may soon be a time when people over the age of 50 or 60 were regularly recommended the drug by their family doctor.

My personal view is that aspirin is a life-saving drug with huge potential," he said. "What the medical profession has to weigh up is the modest risk of side-effects against the benefits of helping you live longer."

The charity Beating Bowel Cancer said: "There has been a lot of exciting research carried out recently which is undoubtedly encouraging, and suggests that aspirin can combat bowel cancer. We would, however, recommend that people consult their doctor about doses as aspirin can be dangerous, especially if taken on an empty stomach

"We can’t say yet that everyone should take aspirin daily, or that certain age groups should take it more than others, but it does look as if the drug could become an important part of bowel cancer prevention."

Source: Diabetes In

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