Sing a Song For Aspirin (March 26, 2019)
There’s this pill. It decreases pain of all kinds, and it does that by reducing inflammation. It also lowers fever. It will cut your risk of heart attack, colon cancer, and stroke, sometimes by more than half. And it costs about a dollar for a HUNDRED of them (as long as you look on the right place on the drugstore shelf, and not let yourself get distracted by the pricier stuff). What IS this miracle pill?
Well, you probably know, because you had to read the article headline to get here. It’s ASPIRIN.
I’m here today to boost aspirin, partly out of sheer orneriness. It seems to me that the medical community flat-out dislikes aspirin. Despite all the great stuff it can do, they and their shills on the interwebs spend most of their time talking about the reasons you SHOULDN’T use it. And I for one am very sick of all this bigotry.
If you look “aspirin” up on medical websites, you’d think that you were taking your life in your hands every time you swallow one. WebMD’s different areas of discussion on aspirin are subheaded thus: Uses (and half of this page is cautionary), Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Overdose, and Images. (Why “Images”, by the way? We need a bunch of pictures of different aspirin tablets, why? In case you drop it on the floor, they think you might pick up a caterpillar and swallow that accidentally instead?) Every single subtitle makes you think that taking an aspirin is like playing Russian Roulette with five chambers loaded.
Here’s my theory for why this is. Doctors don’t like you to do stuff on your own. They are the Experts, so they really want to be consulted on EVERYTHING to do with medicine. Granted, people do have a tendency to overdo things, especially health-related things. But since doctors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. (have I mentioned that before?), pretty much anything your doctor is going to prescribe for you is not only going to cost you a lot more than an aspirin would, it’s going to be more likely to harm you.
Aspirin (in its natural form, salicylic acid, found in willow leaves, willow bark and meadowsweet flower) has been in use to decrease pain and fever since probably about 3000 BCE. That is a LONG time for anything to have continuous use in human culture, beaten only by fire, the domestication of dogs and the use of alcohol (the latter reason probably why we needed aspirin in the first place).
Extracted and slightly modified, the somewhat caustic salicylic acid becomes acetylsalicylic acid, a chemical alteration that made it not only easier on the stomach, but also patentable. Athough it was under patent for a while, it has never been under prescription, and I think that both those things are key as to why aspirin is so underappreciated in America today. The boys in charge (and you know that whoever they are, they are boys) therefore can’t control it. You can just go out and buy it, and it's cheap. You don’t have to go to Mexico or Canada to get it, and you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy it. It makes you feel better, and it’s good for you too. If your purpose is to squeeze as much money out of the American public as possible, aspirin is a very big thorn in your side.
Aspirin has been getting some particularly negative press lately because -- why? Because it’s turning out to be not as great as we’d hoped. Well, gee. You tell me what IS as great as we hoped. Specifically in the case of aspirin, it turns out that it isn’t really helpful in preventing cardiovascular problems in people who are pretty healthy already. Big whoop. That’s like ragging on a Hawaii vacation because you have to drive to the airport to get there. Oh no, the plane doesn’t pick me up at my house! Oh, it’s no good. Jeez.
The usual disclaimers apply here. Because just like anything that can make a profound change in your body, there are rules you have to follow both for effective use and to not harm yourself. Think how bad you’d feel if you went to all the trouble to avoid taking a problem to your medical doctor, then messed yourself up on your own. So do your research before you take any action.
I am not going to repeat all those guidelines here. I know you have a computer. And I know that you’re a responsible adult. If you want to prescribe aspirin for yourself for health reasons, you’ll understand the rules underpinning its use better and use it more effectively if you research how to do that yourself.
And here are some reasons that you might want to do so.
Pain Relief. Aspirin relieves pain without messing with your mind. It does that by relieving inflammation. Those are TWO things that aspirin does, not one. Pain hurts and is lousy and gets a lot of attention, but inflammation can destroy your body with very little pain if it chooses to do so, and aspirin treats them both.
Aspirin works alone with mild to moderate pain, and in combination with other medications if you have severe pain. I would mention briefly here that doctors are starting to find that aspirin and other over-the-counter pain relievers, in various combinations and in larger doses, are working as well or better to control the kinds of pain that they spent the last two decades prescribing opioids for. Well, golly! Sorry about that unnecessary opioid epidemic, folks!
Heart disease. Aspirin lowers your chance of having a heart attack whether or not you’ve had one already. It lowers your of dying from cardiovascular disease if you’ve already had a heart attack. And if you’re in the middle of a heart attack, aspirin can prevent further clot formation and tissue death.
Stroke. Lowers your chance of having another stroke if you’ve already had one.
Cancer. Lowers your chances of developing colorectal cancer, of it spreading if it’s already present, and of your dying from it. And if MAY reduce the chances of developing cervical cancer by half and stomach and esophageal cancer, by 30-50%.
Etc. Here is a good link to start with, if you are really interested:
So do I suggest you start taking a daily aspirin? Hell no. I’m a licensed medical practitioner. I’m not allowed to tell random people I haven't evaluated to do stuff like that out of the blue sky because, unlike your uncle or the guy who sits next to you at work, my advice is worth something and my behavior is legally held to a certain standard. But it might be a very, very good idea for you. You’ll have to look into it.
In summary, then. Aspirin is a fabulous, ancient, very inexpensive, accessible medication that performs so many different valuable functions that if it was under patent, you’d have to sell yourself into slavery to obtain it. And because it’s common, cheap and easy to get, it tends to be undervalued by a society that doesn’t value those things -- ours.
I wrote this because none of us should forget, EVER forget, any day of our lives, that America’s cultural conversation is driven by money and drama, and belittles or ignores everything else. Aspirin has neither of those things going for it, so the powers that be tend to minimize it. Do not do so yourself, and you will almost certainly have another useful tool you can use to build your life.
--dr. diane holmes
Copyright © 2019