Is Aspirin a new weapon against cancer?

January 14, 2011

A daily dose of aspirin has been shown to reduce long-term risk of death due to various common cancers, according to a study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

While aspirin is commonly prescribed to cardiovascular disease patients, more recently a possible role in the fight against cancer has been noted. This analysis included 25,500 patients and concluded that those given aspirin had a 25 percent decreased risk of death from cancer during the trial period and a 10 percent reduction in death from any cause, compared to patients given a placebo. Treatment lasted four to eight years with half of the patients being followed for 20 years in total. The most promising results were seen in cases of gastrointestinal cancer.

Aspirin, like other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), is known to cause bleeding in the intestinal tract and brain, with the risk of this significantly increasing in people age 75 and older. While some medics deem this a reasonable risk, it is not yet known what possible adverse effects might result from taking even a low dosage of aspirin over the suggested 20 or so years. Note that some people should not take aspirin: those on blood thinning drugs or supplements or those suffering from peptic ulcers, liver or kidney disease or internal bleeding problems.

Alternatively or additionally, diet and lifestyle can significantly influence your risk of cancer. This gives you some control over your health, as you can make changes that can help lower your cancer risk. These include:

–Increasing your antioxidant intake to help prevent damage to the body by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable and reactive compounds that circulate the body, irritating cells, affecting their function and contributing to the risk of cancer development. Antioxidants are nutrients that mop up these free radicals, reducing their harmful effects and hence the possibility of cancer developing. They are found in fruits and vegetables, especially brightly colored ones.

–Minimizing nonorganic dairy products. Cows tend to be injected with growth hormones, which find their way into your body and can promote rapid cell growth and reproduction. This both increases the possibility of gene mutation, a precursor to cancer development, and can boost the growth of already existent tumors.

–Extra help against breast cancer can be found in estrogen-like compounds (phytoestrogens) such as those found in the fermented soy products miso and tofu. Lentils, chickpeas and flaxseeds are also classed as phytoestrogens.

–Omega-3 fatty acids are natural anti-inflammatories that work in similar ways to aspirin without the intestinal irritation. However, although these fatty acids are generally beneficial to health, research to date on omega-3 and cancer has proved inconclusive. Avoid taking both omega-3 supplements and aspirin without first consulting your doctor or nutritionist.

In summary, aspirin looks promising, but it is not for everyone. The final decision to take it as a preventive measure is of course a personal one, but you should seek medical advice first. If you decide yes, it is recommended that you take aspirin at night with a glass of milk to help counter stomach irritation. Regardless of your decision, incorporating dietary guidelines is a positive step toward good health. However, avoid the temptation to single-mindedly focus on a particular food or food group; instead, aim for variety within the context of an overall healthy diet.

Sources: The Lancet, (www.thelancet.com); American College of Gastroenterology, (www.acg.gi.org); Clinical Cancer Research, (clincancerres.aacrjournals.org); National Center for Biotechnology Information, (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov); American Cancer Society, (www.cancer.org); University of Maryland Medical Center, (www.umm.edu).

Julie Godfrey is a nutritional therapy practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For more information, see www.foreverhealthyco.com.

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