August 26th 2008, 11:00
Aspirin seems to have reclaimed the mantle of 'wonder drug' over the last couple of days with new research that recommends all healthy men and women who are 50 years and older should take one a day to prevent heart attack and stroke.
It's not the first time that aspirin has been promoted as the ultimate prophylactic that needs to be part of everyone's daily health regime. The abilities of the painkiller to ward off heart attack and stroke were first noted in 1953, and its standing as the greatest of all drugs reached its zenith in 2005 when a major study confirmed its effectiveness.
Indeed, we all view it as our health-giving friend that we don't even bother mentioning it as one of the drugs we take. Researchers found this out when they interviewed patients being treated in hospital for gastro-intestinal problems. One in five was taking the drug, but hadn't told medical staff. This also suggests that the true extent of adverse reactions to the drug, and especially stomach bleeding and other gastic problems, is far higher than official figures tell us.
But there's something else to consider, especially if you're 75 years or older. It appears that, far from protecting the elderly against stroke, aspirin is one of the major cause of cerebral haemorrhage, or stroke. Researchers from Oxford University made the discovery when they compared numbers of stroke victims between 1981 and 1985 and again between 2002 and 2006. While the overall rate of stroke had dropped, the rate among the elderly remained the same. The research team discovered that the elderly had listened to the one-a-day advice, and consumption of aspirin in this group had increased dramatically.
In the the first group, just 4 per cent were taking aspirin as a just-in-case; by 2002, this rate had increased to 40 per cent.
For them, concluded the researchers, aspirin risk far outweighed any benefits.
* To read about the real risks of aspirin, read our Special Report - Death By Aspirin - which is available for immediate download by clicking here.