Should We All Take Aspirin to Prevent Cancer?

Should We All Take Aspirin to Prevent Cancer?

September 15, 2019 55 By Ewald Bahringer


“Should We All Take Aspirin to Prevent Cancer?” In people without a personal history of cardiovascular
disease, the risks of aspirin may
outweigh the benefits, but aspirin may have
additional benefits as well. We have long recognized the
preventative role of daily aspirin for patients with heart disease; however, it now appears we can now hatch
two birds from one egg. Daily low dose aspirin may also help prevent certain
forms of cancer as well. An analysis of 8 different studies involving
more than 25,000 people the authors found a 20% decrease
in risk of death from cancer among those randomized to a daily aspirin. You know the search for effective and safe
treatments for cancer remains an enormous
and burdensome challenge. If only we could just stop cancer in its tracks—prevent
it before it strikes. Well, perhaps we can with this
plant phytonutrient, salicylic acid, found in aspirin. How does it affect cancer? Well, the Nobel Prize in Medicine went to
the team that discovered how aspirin works. Enzymes named COX, cyclooxygenase, take the proinflammatory omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid that our body makes— or we get directly in our diet
from mainly chicken and eggs, our enzymes take the arachidonic acid and turn it into inflammatory mediators,
like thromboxane, which produces thrombosis, clots, and prostaglandins,
which cause inflammation. Aspirin suppresses these enzymes, though;
so, less thromboxane means fewer clots, and less prostaglandin means
less pain, swelling, and fever. But prostaglandins can also dilate the lymphatic
vessels inside tumors, allowing cancer cells to spread. So, one of the ways cancer tries
to kill us is by boosting COX activity. That’s one of the ways we think
aspirin can help prevent cancer, by counteracting tumor attempts to pry open
the lymphatic bars on its cage and spread throughout the body, because the
reduction in mortality due to some cancers occurred within 2 to 3 years
after aspirin was started. That seems too quick to be accounted for by
an effect only on the genesis formation of cancer. Cancer can take decades to develop; so, the only way aspirin could save us
that fast is by suppressing the growth and spread of tumors that already exist. Aspirin appeared to cut the
risk of metastases in half, particularly for adenocarcinomas,
like colon cancer. So now, what about everyone
taking a daily baby aspirin? Previous risk/benefit analyses did not consider
the effects of aspirin on cancer, instead just balancing cardiovascular benefits
with bleeding risks. But these new cancer findings
may change things. If this was just a reduction
of colon cancer risk, then the benefits might not outweigh
the harms for the general public, but now we have evidence that
it works against other cancers, too. Even a 10% reduction in
overall cancer incidence could tip the balance in favor
of benefits versus risks. How does the cancer benefit compare? As we saw before, using aspirin in healthy
people just for cardiovascular protection is kind of a wash. By contrast, the cancer prevention rates might
save twice as many lives; and so, the benefits may outweigh the risks. If you put it all together, heart attacks,
strokes, cancer, and bleeding, aspirin comes out looking protective overall,
potentially extending our lifespan. Yes, higher risk of major
bleeding even on low dose aspirin, but fewer heart attacks,
clotting strokes, and cancers; so, aspirin may be beneficial overall. Note these age categories
only go up to 74 years old, though. That’s because the risk of bleeding on aspirin
increases steeply with age; and so, may tip the balance the other way. But in younger folks, these data certainly
have the research community buzzing. The emerging evidence on
aspirin’s cancer protection highlights an exciting
time for cancer prevention. In light of low-dose aspirin’s ability to
reduce mortality from both vascular events and cancer to a very notable degree,
it is tempting to recommend low-dose aspirin for nearly everybody. However, aspirin pills, even in low
doses, have a propensity to damage the lining of our stomach and intestines
and increase the risk for gastrointestinal bleeding; this fact may constrain health authorities
from recommending aspirin for the general population. Recent meta-analyses estimate that just a
single year of low-dose aspirin therapy will induce major gastrointestinal
bleeding in one out of 833 people. If only there was a way to get
the benefits, without the risks. Those who remember this video,
already know the answer. The aspirin phytonutrient
isn’t just found in willow trees, but throughout the plant kingdom. This explains why the active ingredient in
aspirin is found normally in the bloodstream even in people
not taking any aspirin. Here’s the levels of aspirin in
people that eat fruits and vegetables, and here’s the levels of those that don’t. Then, drink just one fruit smoothie, and within
an hour and a half, your levels rise. But, as you can see, one smoothie
ain’t going to do it; you have to regularly eat daily
fruit and vegetable consumption. Are these kinds of aspirin levels sufficient
to suppress the expression of that inflammatory enzyme implicated
in cancer growth and spread? Using umbilical cords and foreskin cells—where
else are you going to get human tissue?— they found that even those low levels caused
by smoothie consumption significantly suppressed the expression of
that inflammatory enzyme on a genetic level. Well, if this aspirin phytonutrient is made
by plants, we might expect plant-eaters to have higher levels, and indeed,
not only did they find higher blood levels in vegetarians, there was an overlap with
people taking aspirin pills. Some vegetarians had the same level in their
blood as people actually taking aspirin. Vegetarians pee out as much of the active
metabolite of aspirin as aspirin users do, just because they’re eating so
many fruits and vegetables. Because the anti-inflammatory action of aspirin
is probably the result of this active ingredient in aspirin, salicylic
acid, and the concentrations of salicylic acid seen in vegetarians have been shown to inhibit
that inflammatory COX enzyme in vitro, it’s plausible that dietary
salicylates may contribute to the beneficial effects of a vegetarian diet, although it seems unlikely that most omnivores
would be able to achieve sufficient dietary intake of salicylates
to have a therapeutic effect. They can certainly eat more fruit and veggies too. With effectively all that aspirin
flowing through their systems, plant-eaters must have high ulcer rates, right?
Aspirin can just chew through our gut. But no, vegetarians appear to have a significantly
lower risk of ulcers, for both men and women. So, for the general population, by eating
plants instead of taking aspirin, we may not just get the
benefits without the risks, we get the benefits—with benefits! How is that possible? Because in plants, the salicylic acid may
come naturally pre-packaged with gut-protective nutrients. For example, nitric oxide from dietary nitrates
exerts stomach protective effects by boosting blood flow and protective mucus
production in the lining of the stomach, effects which demonstrably oppose the
pro-ulcerative impact of aspirin. Dark green leafy vegetables are among the
richest dietary sources of nitrate, but of course, the researchers go
on to say that “Since it may be unrealistic to expect people
to eat ample servings” of greens “every day,” we should just give people pills with their
pills, right? Nitrate pills with their aspirin pills. But, why not just eat our greens? People who’ve had a heart attack should
follow their physician’s advice, which probably includes taking aspirin every
day, but what about everyone else? I think everyone should take aspirin—
but, in produce, not pill form.