Is Aspirin Healthy?
Aspirin is very much a common household name and is one of the most widely used medications in the world. Everyone knows it as the common pain and headache reliever. Many people take it regularly without putting much thought into it. As with any drug, or anything you decide to ingest for that matter, it is important to know exactly what you are putting into your body. How is the drug made? What are the side effects? Does it really work? Is it bad for you?
If you are taking aspirin, you are likely suffering from some sort of inflammation. In a healthy individual, inflammation is a natural part of the body’s response to harm. When you sprain an ankle, it becomes inflamed. As uncomfortable as it may be, it is a necessary part of the healing process. However, in excess, inflammation can be quite harmful. Consider some common examples of inflammatory diseases such as acne, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases, and arthritis. Also, chronic inflammation is widely observed in obese people.
Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, is a drug that provides the body with salicylic acid. This acid, found naturally in several varieties of fruits and vegetables, is known for its ability to reduce inflammation and fever. For this reason, aspirin is very good at treating those minor aches and pains. But the benefits of aspirin go beyond that of a mild pain reliever. This anti-inflammatory drug also has anti-platelet properties that reduce blood clotting (other examples of anti-platelet drugs include Plavix and Ticlid).
There is a multitude of studies that document aspirin’s benefits in primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. For this reason, it is commonly prescribed by doctors to prevent heart attacks and strokes. And the benefits do not stop there! A recent study has shown that aspirin can also increase the activity of the enzyme AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase), a protein essential for the body’s energy balance. Think of AMPK as the body’s master switch that controls such functions as fat metabolism, cholesterol production, and insulin production. Obese mice given aspirin showed increases in fat burning and reductions in liver fat. Additional studies are currently being conducted to test whether aspirin’s effects on AMPK can prevent Type 2 diabetes. This is very interesting since diabetes is associated with an increased cardiovascular risk. Aspirin may act as a double-edged sword that treats both cardiovascular disease and diabetes simultaneously!
The most notable side effect of aspirin is the effect it has the the lining of the stomach and the rest of the digestive tract. Aspirin is known to increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, as well as cause symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, and upset stomach. In addition, some people are allergic to aspirin and experience symptoms such as fever, hives, and swelling. On a side note, do not confuse aspirin with ibuprofen or paracetamol products, such as Advil or Tylenol, which cause liver damage among other adverse effects.
To say that aspirin, or any other drug for that matter, is completely understood would be a misstatement. But the general consensus seems to be that aspirin works and is here to stay. In the case of aspirin, it seems that man has been able to isolate a very useful compound that is otherwise only obtainable in very small amounts from the diet. Of course, it is always advisable to get your salicylic acid, along with all the other nutrients food can provide, from eating healthily. And who knows, someday you might find that you have no need for pain-relievers such as aspirin. In the end, all roads lead to diet!
My Top Recommendations for Inflammation Fighting Foods
- Dark Green Leafy Greens (Swiss Chard and Kale)
- Olive Oil
- Fatty Fish (Sardines, Mackerel and Salmon)
- Berries (Organic)
- Sweet Potato
- Fermented Foods (Sauerkraut, Kimchi)
- McMaster University. “Aspirin: New evidence is helping explain additional health benefits and open potential for new uses.” ScienceDaily, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 1 May 2012.