New papers in The Lancet confirm that aspirin helps prevent cancer, as well as heart attacks, which has been known for a long time.
These are very, very strong findings. One of the papers (Rothwell et al – has sidebar links to the others) is a meta-analysis of 51 controlled trials involving 77,000 participants. The p-values of the effects (depending on what they were looking at: 3 vs. 5 years, incidence vs. deaths, or women vs. men) range from 0·01 to 0·0003. The latter means there is a 1 in 3,300 chance of observing these data if there’s really no connection, getting into physics territory. The size of the cancer-reducing effect for these metrics lies between 13% and 24% – not a miracle but still substantial. Rothwell doesn’t offer calculations of increased life expectancy; but the 5-year effect was stronger than the 3-year one, so aspirin is not just delaying onset by a year or two.
At this point I assume that further controlled trials become unethical, except to determine optimum dosages.
Big Pharma will not be putting a lot of effort into marketing its off-patent Victorian wonder drug, so takeup will depend on word-of-mouth between consumers as much as on medical advice.
Should you go out and start taking baby aspirin? A year’s supply will set you back all of $25. There is a heightened risk of ulcers and intestinal bleeding, and a slight one of stroke. If you have a specific vulnerability to cancer – like Lynch syndrome – it looks a no-brainer, and still a pretty good deal if you don’t. Don’t take my word for it, and as they say it’s safest to seek medical advice. However, researchers on the subject take aspirin themselves.
Most of us die of either cancer or heart disease. Since aspirin is good against both, it’s starting to look like a longevity pill.
Some are even calling it ‘vitamin S’: a needed component of our diet, rather than a medicine. The argument goes like this. Plants, including the ones we eat as vegetables, naturally produce aspirin-like compounds, salicylates. as defence against their pathogens. In the ancestral environment our diet naturally had a lot of these chemicals. Today we don’t eat enough leaf vegetables anyway – this is standard nutrition advice. Second, there’s a nice theory that the vegetables we do eat are far too perfect. Modern supermarket veg is grown in near-sterile conditions; pathogens are kept at bay with pesticides; and we or the supermarkets throw away blighted leaves or heads.
The basis for this imperfection claim doesn’t look very strong. The articles I’ve seen cited are by John Paterson, a Scottish medic, who found much higher levels of salicylates in the blood of vegetarian Buddhist monks (2001, Journal of Clinical Pathology, vol 54, p 553) and organic soups (2002, European Journal of Nutrition, vol 40, p 289), compared I suppose to ordinary haggis-fed Scots blood and supermarket soups. Nobody seems to have done a controlled trial in a greenhouse. (I mean, of vegetables with and without diseases, not of monks, Scots or soup.) However, I’ll go with Paterson for now because the story makes sense.
So Republicans be warned. If Obamacare is held constitutional, liberals are not only going to legislate that you must consume Interstate-Commerce, Necessary-and-Proper broccoli. For your health and the General Welfare, the Life Panels will force you to eat blighted broccoli.