Aspirin never ceases to amaze us. For a medicine that has been around for over 120 years and remains one of the most inexpensive drugs in the pharmacy, we are surprised that there continue to be discoveries.
The latest review of aspirin has to do with its use in the prevention of migraine headaches (American Journal of Medicine, April 2020). One of the authors is Dr. Charles Hennekens. He is considered one of the world’s top scientists by his colleagues. He has contributed to three textbooks and over 750 medical publications.
Dr. Hennekens and his co-authors reviewed the aspirin data over the past several decades. They concluded:
“The totality of evidence, which includes data from randomized trials, suggests that high-dose aspirin, in doses from 900 to 1,300 mg, given at the onset of symptoms, is an effective and safe treatment option for acute migraine headaches. In addition, the totality of evidence, including, some but not all, randomized trials, suggests the possibility that daily aspirin in doses from 81 to 325 mg, may be an effective and safe treatment option for the prevention of recurrent migraine headaches.
“The relatively favorable side effect profile of aspirin and extremely low cost compared with other prescription drug therapies may provide additional clinical options for primary healthcare providers in the treatment of both acute and recurrent migraine headaches.”
Of course, no one should take high doses of aspirin without medical supervision. The same holds true for long-term use. Aspirin can cause stomach irritation and ulcers. And there is always a concern about bleeding.
New migraine medicines such as erenumab (Aimovig), fremanezumab (Ajovy) and galcanezumab (Emgality) could cost between $600 and $700 for a once-monthly injection. Health insurance may not always cover these new treatments. Bayer aspirin costs about 3 cents per pill.
What else can aspirin do? Surprisingly, many obstetricians now recommend aspirin for high-risk pregnancies (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, Sept. 9, 2014). Low-dose aspirin, prescribed by a physician, may lower the risk of a serious condition called pre-eclampsia (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Oct. 30, 2019).
Most intriguing of all, aspirin continues to generate excitement with its anti-cancer activity. Scientists at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center have reported that patients taking low-dose aspirin have better survival statistics against head and neck cancer, as well as non-small-cell lung cancer.
There is also evidence to suggest that regular aspirin use reduces the risk of colorectal and other digestive tract cancers (Annals of Oncology, May 2020). Aspirin may also provide some protection against breast and prostate cancer.
Aspirin must be treated with respect because of the potential for serious adverse reactions. That is why a health professional should always monitor treatment and help weigh benefits and risks with this old OTC medication.
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their syndicated radio show can be heard on public radio. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: