Should You Be Taking Aspirin Daily?
Dec. 22, 2015 -- It’s cheap, easy to find, and, according to some, a miracle drug.
But should you pop an aspirin every day to stay healthy?
More and more research suggests that this medicine protects against heart attacks, strokes, a variety of cancers, and even preterm birth and preeclampsia, a condition in pregnancy marked by high blood pressure and damage to organs such as the kidneys.
And most recently, a study found that salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, blocks a protein that can enter brain cells and trigger the process that leads to their death, as seen in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
But it's too soon to add protection against such brain diseases to the “pros” column when considering whether to take aspirin, says Daniel Klessig, PhD, a researcher on the new study and a professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University.
“While the results from our study are exciting and provide great promise as a possible treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, they will need to be followed by much more comprehensive studies, including mouse model work and human clinical studies,” Klessig says. Besides, he says, research likely will lead to compounds derived from salicylic acid that will be more effective and safer than aspirin.
That question of safety has always been at the center of the aspirin debate, even for heart disease. Aspirin’s most worrisome quality is that it can cause bleeding in the upper digestive tract, namely the stomach, and in the brain. Age increases the risk, as does having a history of bleeding.
“It’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of aspirin therapy with a physician,” says Deepak Bhatt, MD, MPH, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
An Aspirin Two-fer?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of health care professionals, added a twist to the debate about whether healthy people should take aspirin. In September, it posted its draft of new guidelines about the drug's use by people 50 and older.