Read it again carefully: Aspirin is not a miracle drug. Recent international news flashes are touting the “protective effect” of aspirin against melanoma in females. Aspirin has previously been announced as “preventative” in breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. Please note again: Aspirin is NOT a miracle drug. Aspirin does NOT prevent cancer.
Aspirin does one thing very well. Aspirin blocks the function of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme in the body that is required to produce Thromboxane A2 and certain Prostaglandins. Why is that helpful?
Thromboxane A2 causes platelets in the blood to clump together, one of the processes that leads to clots in the arteries of the heart and the brain – that is, heart attack and stroke. Prostaglandin12 decreases the transmission of pain and modifies the temperature regulation center in the brain. Blocking cyclooxygenase decreases the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and enhances the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins – which is wonderful for acute pain sufferers and for arthritics. In the process of being anti-inflammatory, aspirin decreases the some of the inflammatory activity that is part of some cancers, but this plays only a small part in the overall beginnings and growth of cancers.
Therefore, aspirin does three things: decreases blood clotting, decreases body temperature, and decreases inflammation. But so does many other activities of daily living. Getting 8 hours of sleep at night, regular exercise, avoiding transfats and reducing saturated fats in the diet, and modifying responses to stress ALL reduce inflammation and decrease blood clotting at least as well as aspirin – without the side effects of the aspirin.
Yes, like all medicines, aspirin has side effects, including bleeding of the stomach and small bowel, brain hemorrhage, interfering with some other medicines, Reye’s Syndrome in children, ringing in the ears, hives, and intolerance. All of these side effects are the result of what aspirin does well – blocking the function of cyclooxygenase – but with unwanted effects in people who do not tolerate this activity in various ways.
Remember: People who smoke and exercise have lower heart attack rates than people who don’t smoke and don’t exercise. People who eat a Mediterranean vegetarian diet and exercise regularly have lower cholesterol and triglyceride numbers than people who take statins and eat the usual American carnivorous, high-fat, highly refined carbohydrate diet and don’t exercise.
Taking aspirin is associated with a 20% reduction in the incidence of melanoma in females. Protection from UV rays is 80-90% effective in reducing the incidence of melanoma in everyone.
A healthful lifestyle is the magic medicine to control inflammatory diseases and cut cancer rates. Aspirin, like other medicines, is a temporary medical intervention for acute symptoms and specific conditions, NOT a preventative for cancer and NOT a substitute for wise lifestyle choices.