Time-tested OTC drug tackles cancer, heart disease, and pain

Research shows one of the oldest OTC drugs on the market may protect you against cancer and heart disease. Plus, it also helps with daily aches and pains. It also has one of the best safety profiles of any drug on the market. And it derives from an old Native American remedy. I’ll tell you all about this old “standby” drug in a moment.

But first–let’s back up…

You know I’m not a natural-know-it-all who warns to never, ever take any drug. But I do warn you not to take brand-new drugs.

You see, the new drugs are very often some of the most dangerous. My colleague Donald Light, M.D., completed an analysis on all new drugs approved by FDA over the past 30 years. And he found that only 10 percent are more effective, while fully 50 percent are more dangerous than the drugs they are intended to replace at higher costs. Plus, the FDA approves new drugs based on “cherry picked” data and circumstances from clinical trials controlled by big pharma. (I warned you about these dangers in the July 2014 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter.)

Then, when the new drug hits the mainstream market–and millions of average Americans start taking it–we suddenly learn about all the dangerous side effects.

So, if you have to take a drug, I recommend talking to your doctor about one that’s been on the market for at least seven years. This interval allows time to observe the real safety profile of drugs, outside the artificial, “controlled” circumstances of clinical trials.

Of course, one of the oldest–and safest–drugs on the market today is aspirin.

Aspirin has been widely available as an over-the-counter remedy since before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (the forerunner of the FDA) even came into existence. Accordingly, its approval was “grandfathered” into acceptance.

Aspirin actually derives from the bark of the white willow (Salix alba), a natural remedy used by Native Americans. The acetylsalicylic acid ingredient in aspirin also occurs naturally in meadowsweet grass, a much more abundant and harvestable source.

Despite this long history of safe and effective use in both children and adults, some contemporary medical researchers have made careers questioning this old standby’s safety profile.

But researchers at the Department of Pharmacology at University of Pennsylvania (my alma mater) recently laid to rest many of the questions about the safety of aspirin.

By contrast, many other pain-relieving drugs have an ever-growing list of dangerous side effects. For example, Tylenol (acetaminophen)–relentlessly marketed as a safe and effective replacement for aspirin–is the leading cause of liver toxicity and fatal liver failure in the U.S. Plus, a new study shows Tylenol does nothing for back pain, despite somehow being considered the “first line” medical treatment for it.

Aspirin, on the other hand, DOES work to relieve acute pain. Of course, aspirin’s benefits also extend well beyond pain relief…

First off, research conducted over the past few decades consistently links daily, low-dose aspirin (80 mg per day) with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 cause of mortality in the U.S.

Second, we know aspirin also has cancer prevention effects. But it’s not been widely studied because of misplaced, I believe, concerns about its potential side effects.

Thankfully, that mindset may be slowly changing. And a brand-new review study published in the Annals of Oncology found a strong connection between aspirin use and reduced cancer rates.

According to this analysis, if everyone between the ages of 50 and 65 years started taking daily aspirin for 10 years, there would be a 9 percent reduction in cancers, stroke and heart attacks overall. The researchers based this analysis on systematic reviews and individual studies on GI, breast, prostate, and lung cancers–the major causes of cancer mortality.

Another study showed that taking aspirin daily for just five years could decrease colon and other GI cancers by a whopping 40 percent. These cancers are the third leading cause of cancer mortality. So this benefit would translate to a 16 percent reduction in overall cancer mortality!

The benefits of daily aspirin begin to appear after three years. And death rates start to decrease after five years. Daily doses from 75 to 100 mg were sufficient to gain benefits.

Of course, aspirin does have a major potential side effect: bleeding.

Aspirin acts as a “blood thinner.” And chronic use is associated with a higher risk of bleeding, especially in the digestive tract. But these risks are low for people under 70 years.

This concern is what hung up cancer research on aspirin for all these decades. It seems ironic when subjected to the cold light of science, as by the recent review at Penn. And when you compare aspirin’s risks to the toxicity of other drugs used for pain, cancer, and heart disease prevention (such as statins), they appear miniscule.

Some experts now conclude the benefits of taking aspirin to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases outweigh the potential risks. All things considered, the authors of the new analysis stopped short of making an absolute recommendation for daily use of aspirin. But in the meantime, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has begun a comprehensive review of the role of aspirin in cancer prevention. Particularly in prevention of colon and other GI cancers.

Of course, you should never combine aspirin with blood thinner drugs. Especially not with drugs used to treat atrial fibrillation or deep venous thrombosis, for example.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a close look at the FDA’s blatantly biased stance on aspirin. They are shutting the door on long-approved aspirin even while the new research is coming in to support its benefits over risks. Stay tuned.


  1. “Estimates of benefits and harms of prophylactic use of aspirin in the general population,” First published online: August 5, 2014
  1. JNCI 2012;104: 1208-1217