Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Aspirin - Today And Every Day?

Today, New Year's Day, is a day when many of us will turn to aspirin to help us recover from a long, eventful changing of the calendar. But maybe we should turn to what may be a wonder drug not only this day, or others like it, but every day. It turns our Aspirin may be a 'Wonder Drug.'

willow-treeYou may not know it, but aspirin (like many other medicines) is actually a very old, natural remedy. While modern science strives to make new synthetic pharmaceuticals, we continue to rediscover ancient, natural remedies work as well or better than those we concoct. For example, Native Americans used the willow tree as a medicine by chewing or boiling a tea from the willow's leaves or inner bark to relieve fever or other minor pain like toothaches, headaches, or arthritis. Sounds a lot like aspirin eh? Well, that is because the inner bark and leaves of many willows contains the medicinal extract, salicin, or salicylic acid (from salix the Latin for willow) recognized by scientists at the start of the19th century as the source of the medicinal properties. From salicin, acetylsalicylic acid is derived - and that my friends is aspirin - developed in 1897 by the German chemist Felix Hoffmann while working for Bayer. Long before Hoffman, another prominent figure in medicine knew of Willow's properties. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used an extract from the bark and leaves of the willow tree to help alleviate pain and fevers.


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We all know that aspirin can be taken for said pain and fevers, not to mention as an anti-inflammatory, and you have probably heard of a daily regimen of aspirin for lowering the risk of heart attack, but it can be so much more as detailed in a recent Op-Ed in the NY Times. Aspirin may also help prevent cancer, as detailed by the American Cancer Society who says it 'has also been in numerous studies that suggest it may hold promise in helping to prevent cancer.' It blocks cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, which not only are produced by the body when there is inflammation but also by some precancerous tissues. Aspirin users were 41 percent less likely to develop liver cancer and 45 percent less likely to die from chronic liver disease than non-users, according to study author Vikrant Sahasrabuddhe of the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Md., and colleagues.

Of course there are some risks, including internal bleeding, and before starting such as regimen you should check with your doctor. But consider it if you are at risk for heart disease or cancer, and talk to your doctor about it.

Among all people, across all continents, and as far back as we have records or can study, we have made medicines from natural products including plants, animal products, marine organisms, and microorganisms such as those from fermentation. In modern times our scientific methods can isolate active chemical entities from these traditional, though often maligned as primitive, sources. These natural derivatives are increasingly the primary sources in new drug discoveries. Maybe, just maybe, we should trust more in the 'folk medicines' or home remedies.