Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Aspirin the Wonder Drug!

Aspirin the Wonder Drug!

There is no doubt that there have been many miracles in the field of medicine over the years, the discovery of penicillin, of radium, drugs that treat diabetes and many treatments that have helped cure cancer. Amongst them all, in my opinion, one stand out medicine is the humble Aspirin. I put myself on a daily dose of baby aspirin (75mg) about 10 years ago when I first heard about the advantage it had in reducing the incidence of stroke and heart attack, although at that time I was not at specific risk of either.   Since then the humble little aspirin has gradually been giving away more of its secrets.  The latest news  -that a daily dose of aspirin can reduce the incidence of some cancers and stop others from spreading - is only the last in a long line of discoveries highlighting this drug's extraordinary potential. And Aspirin is not a new discovery.  It was used in ancient times, as an extract from willow bark, for treating fever and pain.

Despite its wonderful benefits in treating various maladies, the actual mechanism of how Aspirin is able to work on so many different medical problems is still a mystery to scientists. It’s first use in modern times came when it was used in the 1850s, to relieve the pains of "rheumatism." It worked but no one had any idea why!

In fact the reason that I chose to take it Aspirin, was not recognised as a benefit of the drug until the late 20th century when doctors started to give it to patients as a preventative against heart disease. Researchers had begun formulating a theory of heart disease that hinged on some sort of inflammation process and the involvement of something called C-reactive protein. (CRP) CRP is a marker for inflammation: if CRP levels in the blood are raised this indicates an inflammatory process.

Taking aspirin reduces CRP levels, and so may also reduce the risk of future heart problems.  There have been concerns that taking this medication in the long term might give rise to other problems such as stomach ulcers.  Its preventative benefits have seen many symptomless patients taking the medication, but there are those who say that it should really only be taken by patients who have been identified as being at risk of heart disease or stroke.  I can imagine that some of you will think I'm mad to be taking a powerful medicine every day when I don’t really know that is doing me any good, and which, in fact, may actually be harming me. But my view is that lots of people take supplements and vitamins - the evidence for those has often been questioned - and I do try to minimise the risks: I take my aspirin after breakfast every day on a full stomach to try to protect my stomach lining.

The more I hear about this drug the more impressed I am with it and so for now, stomach irritation notwithstanding, I am keeping it on my shopping list, along with my seaweed tablets and ginseng.  Oh and that’s another thing, for a drug that packs a big punch has a very small price!

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Amanda Thomas