Is Aspirin a Cure-All? Myth vs. Fact
Aspirin has become a sort of wonder drug over the years – a treatment for all kinds of ailments – from curing headaches to reducing fevers to preventing heart disease. More recently, a landmark clinical trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says that aspirin is just as good as the blockbuster drug warafin (brand name: Coumadin) for preventing a combined risk of death, stroke, and cerebral hemorrhage in people with normal heart rhythm–in other words, the general population. That’s big.
As wonderful as aspirin may be, however, there are some things it does NOT cure or prevent. In doing our job to clear up the health noise out there, we’ve pulled together a list of some aspirin “myths” that have been drummed up over the years so you’re not taking aspirin for, uh… something like contraception.
You may recall that a few months back Foster Friess, a mega-donor behind the Super PAC supporting Rick Santorum, was interviewed by MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell on Santorum’s views about gay marriage, contraception, and women in combat. Asked whether he agreed with his patron’s views on contraception, Friess joked, “You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”
He later apologized for his flippant comment. Still, to be perfectly clear, do not put aspirin–or any other object for that matter–between your knees to prevent pregnancy.
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Myth: Aspirin applied directly to a toothache can relieve the pain.
Don‘t use aspirin directly on a toothache. It’s very irritating to the gum tissue and can do damage to the tooth. Deal with toothaches the old-fashioned way–swallow two aspirins.
Myth: Taking an aspirin a day prevents heart disease.
You should take aspirin only if your doctor has recommended it. University of Kentucky heart disease researchers say that every year nearly a quarter of a million Americans may be hospitalized with bleeding complications caused by needlessly taking an adult-sized aspirin–rather than a baby aspirin—daily to prevent a heart attack or stroke. Most doctors won’t recommend that you take even a baby aspirin daily unless you already have had a heart attack or stroke. Do not begin aspirin therapy on your own. Do so only on the advice of your doctor.
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Myth: A daily dose of aspirin can prevent cancer, or slow its progress.
A daily aspirin is known to prevent colorectal cancer in certain high risk groups, but its benefits are unclear for patients at a normal risk for colon or other cancers.
Fact: Aspirin may cause stomach irritation, ulcers, or gastrointestinal bleeding.
Unfortunately, this is no myth. It’s one of the real hazards of consuming too many aspirins (even at a low dosage). Aspirin lowers body-wide levels of hormone-like chemicals called Prostaglandins that protect the stomach lining from ulcers and bleeding. Without them, your stomach is more likely to become irritated and, in the event of an accident, you could suffer blood loss at a rate considerably higher than usual.
Aspirin is about as close to be being wonder drug as anything out there. But that doesn’t mean you should start popping them on your own as a way to fend off heart disease. Again, talk to your doctor first. Aspirin can have serious side effects and bad interactions with other drugs.
Politico. (2012, April 16). Foster Friess: In my day, ‘gals’ put aspirin ‘between their knees’ for contraception. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/02/foster-friess-in-my-day-gals-put-aspirin-between-their-114730.html
Medical News Today. (2012, May 4). For Most Heart Failure Patients, Aspirin and Warafin Equally Effective. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/244922.php
The Los Angeles Times. (2011, October 27). Aspirin Cuts Colon Cancer Rate, Study Says. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/27/news/la-heb-aspirin-colon-cancer-20111027
Allison is a former editor for HealthCentral.