The Amazing Benefits of Aspirin

Close-up of an open bottle of aspirin tablets

THE WONDERS OF WILLOW BARK TEA

It's been a few years since Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, was on the air, but its fans will recognize willow bark tea. The good doctor depended on it to bring down fevers, reduce pain and at one point, to save the town from the killer flu. The writers of the show did their research. Willow bark contains a substance called salicylic acid, the main ingredient in what we today call aspirin. It first made its appearance as the pill we know today in the late 1800s when the Bayer Company mixed it with vinegar to create acetylsalicylic acid.

WHERE WOULD WE BE WITHOUT ASPIRIN?

It's been used ever since to treat general pain, headaches and fever. In more recent years, small doses have been shown to help prevent heart attack and stroke by preventing blood clots from forming, and to lessen the damage when those attacks do occur. And today, an article released in JAMA Oncology jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx outlines how aspirin in low doses may lower your risk for colon cancer by nearly 20%. Researchers have suspected it, and some studies have indicated it; today's study confirms it. In the study, it also had an impact on other cancers of the GI tract, though not as great. Screening is still your best option, but not everybody is anxious to have a colonoscopy, and the doctors who conducted the study said this could be a preventative for people who refuse the first line of defense. In other words, it's cheap and it's better than doing nothing.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR FIRST

Of course, aspirin can have side effects, such as stomach bleeding, and it should never be given to children without a doctor's direction because of the risk of Reye's Syndrome, which is a rare but often fatal condition that can follow aspirin use in the very young. But in small doses for most adults, doctors say it's well tolerated. Certainly something to ask about.