“When I get a headache, I take two aspirin and keep away from children, just like it says on the bottle!” Yeah, I know. That’s an old joke. But, more and more I’m reading about taking aspirin for all sorts of things besides headaches, fevers, toothaches and arthritis pain.
Aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin, Excedrin) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that includes other drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, MotrinIB) and naproxen (Aleve). The list of people who should not take aspirin, however, is longer than the list for other over-the-counter pain relievers.
Once the gold standard for its anti-inflammatory, pain relieving, fever reducing abilities, the aspirin tablet has fallen from grace. The primary reason comes from the potentially side effects such as stomach ulcer and bleeding, increase in blood pressure and the possibility of an allergic reaction like hives, facial swelling and asthma.
First off, no one under the age of 18 should take aspirin for fear of Reyes Syndrome, a rare but sometimes fatal illness. Drugs.com suggests you should not take aspirin if you’ve ever had any of the above conditions plus liver or kidney disease, gout or congestive heart failure.
“Taking aspirin during late pregnancy may cause bleeding in the mother or the baby during delivery,” they say. “Aspirin can pass into breast milk and may harm a nursing baby. You should not breast-feed while using this medicine.”
But, what about all the good things we read about? What about taking a low dose aspirin to prevent heart problems? This is a subject best discussed with your primary healthcare professional because the information is contradictory.
On one hand you’ll read that NSAIDs can cause heart problems on the other it will tell you that your doctor will recommend aspirin to protect you against heart attack or stroke. The truth is in what your practitioner tells you to do based on your health history. You can probably count on taking a low dose aspirin daily if you’ve survived a heart attack or stroke.
An article on WebMD’s website says that besides reducing risks and increasing chances of survival of heart attacks and strokes, “Newer evidence indicates that aspirin can also reduce the risk of cancer of the colon, esophagus, stomach, rectum and prostate. And most recently, the humble aspirin has offered the tantalizing possibility that it may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.”
Whew! But short of calling aspirin a wonder drug is the fact that having a perforated ulcer or bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract kills more people in the U.S. each year than asthma or cervical cancer.
On the subject of reducing cancer risk, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute states that “a low-dose aspirin regimen is most beneficial for adults age 50 to 59 …For adults age 60-69, the Task Force recommends individuals speak with their primary care physician about the risk and benefits of aspirin use … The Task Force’s findings did not have sufficient evidence showing an aspirin regimen would be beneficial for adults younger than 50 or older than 70.”
Interesting. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the benefits of aspirin as an acne medicine. Yes. You read that correctly. But in this case you don’t take the aspirin, you make it into a paste. The recipe is four or five uncoated, plain aspirin pills (it’s got to be aspirin) and a tablespoon or two of lukewarm water. You simply mash the pills, mix with water and a bit of honey or plain yogurt if you like, apply it to the pimples wait ten minutes then wash it off.
A testimonial on Acne.org states, “I have been using an aspirin mask for the past five days and the results are truly wonderful. I have tried every product under the sun for my oily/acne prone skin and this is far and away the very best investment, not only is it dirt cheap, it works!”
If that’s not a wonder, I don’t know what is!
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.