Originally published May 21 2008
Aspirin Sold as a Wonder Drug for All That Ails, But Falls Far Short
by Heidi Stevenson
(NaturalNews) You've likely seen the articles currently ballyhooing the idea that aspirin, along with other NSAIDs, cuts the risk of breast cancer. It sounds so good. The UK's Independent reported that the breast cancer risk is cut by 20%. The New York Times claimed a 26% lower risk. But, is it true? The answer is probably no, and there certainly is nothing in the study that gives any legitimate credence to the idea.
Where Did the Claim Come From?
The authors of the study, A. Agrawal and I.S. Fentiman of Guy's Hospital in the UK, did not do new research. They searched the MEDLINE database for research that focused on finding a connection between NSAIDs and breast cancer prevention or treatment. They also looked for studies that tried to find the mechanism of a presumed connection between NSAIDs and breast cancer. These were the only criteria used to select articles - criteria that clearly show intent to find a certain result: that NSAIDs lower the risk of breast cancer. This is hardly a balanced approach to research, as the desired result was predetermined.
The studies selected were far from consistent. They found one study, published in 2001, that claims an 18% decrease in the risk of breast cancer, associated primarily with aspirin, not other NSAIDs. Another study from 2003 reported similar results. Another large study produced the same year showed no risk reduction. The authors frankly acknowledged that this was a particularly good and large study. Studies published later show a range of results. Some indicated an increase in breast cancer with high doses of NSAIDs.
The authors of this metastudy make claims for reduced risk of breast cancer, but acknowledge that they do not know what an appropriate NSAID dose would be. The authors start their conclusion with the sentence, "Among studies evaluating the relationship between NSAIDs and breast cancer risk, some found no association whereas others have reported inverse associations."
They go on to point out that a trial of Celecoxib, with the catchy name of REACT (Randomized European Celecoxib Trial) is currently underway. This should strike a note of fear, as Celecoxib has been implicated in a huge range of life-threatening disorders, including liver damage, kidney damage, irregular heart rhythm, gastrointestinal perforation and hemorrhage, edema, osteoarthritis, thrombocytosis, hepatitis, coronary artery disease, bacterial infection, fungal infection, diabetes, and a host of others. Part of the trial will also include tamoxifen, another discredited drug, noted for causing blood clots, endometrial cancer, and stroke. The authors' anticipation of this trial's results is clearly indicated in the sentence, "End-points are disease free survival together with overall survival and toxicity."
To their credit, Agrawal and Fentiman do acknowledge that their article does not take into account the risks associated with NSAIDs and that such a study would need to be done before recommending their use for prevention of breast cancer. Nonetheless, they make the claim that NSAIDs, especially aspirin, appears to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 20%, though they provide absolutely no data to support that claim.
A close inspection of the study makes you wonder how the news media gets its information about studies like this.
What Problems Exist in Taking Aspirin Routinely?
Now, let's take a look at the risks involved in taking aspirin routinely, which is what all these news media articles indicate women should be doing.
One of the standard claims about aspirin is that it limits the risk of stroke. The logic is that aspirin is a blood thinner, therefore strokes are less likely when you take it because they're caused by blood clots. There's an obvious flaw in this thinking. Some strokes are caused by the opposite of blood clots; they're caused by bleeding in the brain. It should have been obvious that routinely taking aspirin, or any blood thinner, carries the risk of increasing the incidence of bleeding strokes.
A study spanning 25 years published in the medical journal, Lancet Neurology, showed a seven-fold increase in the incidence of bleeding stroke in people over age 75 who take aspirin.
Children under age 12 who take aspirin may develop life-threatening Reye's Syndrome. It causes multiple organ disorders and failure. The brain may swell. Cardiac arrest may occur. There is no cure for it. Children often die or are left with permanent disabilities. Though rare, the effects of Reye's Syndrome are so severe that giving aspirin to a child should simply never be done.
A study of nearly 90,000 women at Brigham and Women's Hospital, spanning 18 years, shows a 58% increased risk of pancreatic cancer when the participants took more than two aspirin a week. When they took more than 14, the risk became 86% higher.
Bleeding and ulcers of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are no small matter. 20,000 Americans die each year from such damage caused by aspirin, and another 100,000 go to the hospital for these injuries.
Researchers in East Anglia, UK, did a metastudy of four trials, which followed 153,000 patients who took a combination of NSAIDs and SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors - drugs routinely prescribed for depression and other emotional issues. Those who took only SSRIs had a 2.4 times greater risk of gastrointestinal hemorrhage. Those who took only NSAIDs had a 3.2 times greater risk of such hemorrhages. When an SSRI was taken with an NSAID, the risk rose to 6.3 times that of people who took neither.
To reduce the risk of GI problems from aspirin, people often take buffered forms. These pills are coated with a chemical that neutralizes stomach acid, allowing people who were previously unable to take aspirin to avoid suffering the symptoms of gastric pain. The result, though, has been an increase in GI bleeding. The Boston University School of Medicine did a study of 550 patients with GI bleeding. They found that those who took more than 325 mg. of buffered aspirin daily were seven times more likely to suffer from GI problems.
Clearly, aspirin - the drug that's routinely considered a wonder drug, the one that started the pharmaceutical corporation debacle, the one that has been considered so safe that it's been suggested that taking it every day is a boon to health, the one that people are so inured to that they don't even bother informing their doctors when they take it - this wonder drug carries many serious risks. Aspirin kills children with Reye's Syndrome. It kills adults with GI bleeding. It kills the elderly with hemorrhagic strokes. It kills women with pancreatic cancer. The problems are clearly documented.
When the news media is all abuzz over the latest wonders of aspirin or its other cohorts in crime, NSAIDs, or any other drug, it would be wise to take it with a grain of salt. Consider whether the wonderful news being portrayed is true, or actually a phantom - a fantasy born out of pharmaceutical corporate greed. Is it a chance thing that aspirin is now being promoted for a questionable benefit in regard to breast cancer, but without balancing information to show how many lives are destroyed by it?
The same story about the wonders of aspirin in preventing breast cancer, written in different words in each newspaper, appeared in papers all over the English-speaking world on the same day. How, exactly, did that happen? What are the chances that each newspaper had a reporter on the beat of health news on the same day to report on a highly questionable study, but invariably without any questions as to its accuracy?
These are rhetorical questions. The details of how it happened that virtually every major news outlet in the English-speaking world produced an equivalent are not the real issue here. The point is that it's obviously not a chance thing. Is it possible that mass production of uncritical propaganda regarding the pharmaceutical industry's latest attempts to cram its products down your throat are obviously orchestrated?
The next time you see claims for the wonders of a drug, even one as seemingly innocuous as aspirin, take a step back and ask yourself if the drug might hold risks that are being ignored.
Avoiding Aspirin and other NSAIDs
Interestingly, aspirin was developed by isolating the so-called active ingredient in willow bark, salicylic acid. However, as herbalists and other alternative healthcare practitioners are well aware, it is rarely the isolated ingredient that provides the greatest or safest effect. The natural product is nearly always safer and more effective. Willow bark is no exception to this rule.
For chronic pain relief, especially if it's of an inflammatory nature, willow bark, readily available from herbalists in tincture and whole form, and health food stores in pill form, can be an excellent way to ease pain. Its effects are slower than aspirin's, but far longer lasting. It does not cause the dangerous gastrointestinal bleeding that aspirin does, and side effects are limited. It's noted as effective for pain from osteoarthritis, including lower back pain, osteoporosis, headache, and toothache.
On a side note, people who take narcotics for pain often suffer from severe dry mouth, which leads to loss of teeth over time. Radiation treatments are also noted to cause dry mouth. Willow bark in a lozenge form has been shown to alleviate it.
For the pain of accidents, especially bumps, bruises, and shocks to the head, the homeopathic medication, Arnica, can do wonders. Not only does it alleviate pain very rapidly, it also speeds healing. Homeopaths are particularly fond of Arnica, as people often become converts to homeopathy after the "Arnica experience".
For sprains, try Rhus toxicodendron.
For nerve pain from an injury, such as a cut on a fingertip (not necessarily long term nerve pain), Hypericum can do wonders.
As you can see, there are options for treatment of pain without putting more money into the pockets of pharmaceutical corporations or risking harm to your intestinal tract. With good health habits - a good diet full of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, fresh air and sunshine, adequate hydration, avoidance of toxins, and an active mind - you are unlikely to need any of the pharmaceutical medications to control or prevent chronic disease.
With the clear mind that results from avoiding aspirin and taking good care of yourself, you'll find it easier to see through the propaganda campaigns of the pharmaceutical companies. Aside from being more clear-headed, you'll improve your chances to lead a long and feel-good life, full of energy and zest.
About the author* Heidi Stevenson, BSc, DIHom, FBIH
* Fellow, British Institute of Homeopathy
* Gaia Health (http://www.gaia-health.com)
* The author is a homeopath who became concerned with medically-induced harm as a result of her own experiences and those of family members. She says that allopathic medicine is the arena that best describes the motto, "Buyer beware."
* Heidi Stevenson provides information about medically-induced disease and disability, along with incisive well-researched articles on major issues in the modern world, so members of the public can protect themselves.
She can be reached through her website: www.gaia-health.com
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