Aspirin: Is This Right for You?

Woman taking pills

Aspirin has a wide range of health benefits and treatment abilities. Many would consider it a “miracle drug” because it can not only ease everyday aches and pains, but it may save your life. That’s why it’s on Doctor Oz’s ultimate supplement checklist.

People use aspirin to relieve muscle aches, headaches and toothaches and to reduce swelling, prevent blood clots and, most importantly, improve survival after a heart attack. New studies even suggest that taking aspirin can reduce your risk of cancer. However, is this drug for you? And is it completely safe?

How Does Aspirin Work?
Aspirin calms down inflammation in your body. In reaction to infection or injury, the body increases the production of natural compounds that lead to inflammation. While inflammation on some levels is beneficial, too much inflammation is bad. It causes pain, swelling and redness. Long-term inflammation can increase your risk for chronic pain, heart disease and cancer.

When you take aspirin, it blocks a category of those inflammation-causing compounds, called cyclooxygenases, which helps relieve pain and swelling. It also attacks and blocks another natural compound called thromboxane, that promotes blood clotting.

Heart attacks often occur when blood clots form over cholesterol plaques within blood vessels around the heart. The cholesterol plaque itself forms a partial blockage; if the plaque ruptures, it attracts platelets, which form a clot. As the clot grows, it can block the artery and halt blood flow to heart muscle tissue – causing a heart attack. By thinning the blood, aspirin makes it harder for that clot to form and keeps blood flow open.

Can It Prevent Cancer?
Additionally, news reports back in March revealed more studies that suggest taking a daily aspirin may reduce your risk of getting cancer. Three European studies published in Lancet analyzed over 50 studies on aspirin and cancer and confirmed that taking a daily aspirin for at least three years reduces one’s risk of developing cancers. Those who did develop cancer tended to have less severe cases of cancer. The evidence is especially strong for preventing colon cancer; however, there is also compelling evidence for lung, pancreatic and esophageal cancers as well.

It’s quite possible that the cancer benefits comes from the aspirin-induced reduction in overall inflammation.

Is It Safe?
Aspirin is mostly safe, but no drug comes without side effects. Aspirin should be avoided in those who are allergic to it or to NSAIDs. Talk to your physician before taking aspirin if you have a history of ulcers, gastritis, kidney disease, gout, asthma, or NSAID-induced bronchospasm. Aspirin should also be avoided in those who are taking blood thinners or have bleeding disorders, like hemophilia.

Aspirin is also known to increase one’s risk for GI bleeding. Hence, it should be avoided in those who have gastrointestinal bleeding problems.

Never give aspirin to minors, as it can cause very serious medical consequences. Ask your child’s pediatrician about appropriate pain or fever-relief medications.

How Much Should I Take?
Always consult your physician or pharmacist before adding any medications, prescribed or otherwise, to your regimen. However, general guidelines are as follows:

  • For a headache or muscle ache, take 325 mg of aspirin every 4-6 hours.
  • To prevent a heart attack, take two low-dose (81 mg) aspirin every day if you’re at risk or over 40.
  • If you think you’re having a heart attack, take 325 mg of aspirin, and make sure to chew the aspirin before swallowing, because it gets into the bloodstream quicker.

Do not take more than 4000 mg of aspirin a day, which is about 12 doses.