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Friday, December 10, 2010

Aspirin Against Cancer?

Aspirin recently made headlines as an anti-cancer drug.

In a new study, researchers followed more than 25,000 people who took aspirin regularly for five years. They concluded that taking aspirin daily was associated with a 21% reduced risk of cancer.

This does make some sense.

Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory drug, and inflammation has a strong association with cancer. Inflammatory mediators stimulate cell division and inhibit cell death, prompting tumors to get bigger. Inflammation also triggers tumors to release vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that stimulates the growth of new blood vessels needed to fuel tumor growth and spread malignant cells throughout the body.

Researchers at the Glascow Hospital in Scotland have also linked inflammation to cancer survival. They found that cancer patients with the lowest levels of inflammation lived longer and those with the highest levels of inflammation had the worst prognosis.

Aspirin may reduce inflammation, and reducing inflammation may reduce the risk of cancer, but aspirin isn't the best strategy for cancer prevention. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting and heartburn, especially when taken long term. But more serious and life-threatening adverse reactions can occur, like hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) and internal bleeding.

A Better Strategy

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet and leading an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is a healthy way to prevent cancer and reduce the risk of other chronic illness like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

An anti-inflammatory diet is rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids found in:
  • Vegetables and fruit 
  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Nontoxic seafood like wild salmon, Pacific halibut, herring, sardines and anchovies
  • Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on pasture and never exposed to pesticides, antibiotics or hormones
To follow an anti-inflammatory diet, it is important to avoid trans-fats, simple carbohydrates and omega-6 fatty acids found in:
  • Flour and foods made from flour
  • Sugar, sugar substitutes, corn syrup, agave nectar and sweet foods and beverages
  • White rice
  • Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals fed grains (even if those grains are organic)
  • Industrial fats like corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, canola oils and vegetable oils
An anti-inflammatory lifestyle involves avoiding exposure to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. Regular exercise is also important because it has anti-inflammatory effects in the body and it helps improve cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness, balance, coordination, mood and sleep.

Fish Oil

If you seeking a supplement to provide anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects, consider fish oil.

Like aspirin, fish oil reduces inflammation in the body and prevents cells from getting too sticky and forming clots. But unlike aspirin, fish oil is safe for long term use and does not compromise the gastrointestinal lining. Individuals who are allergic to fish and those who take blood-thinning medications should seek individualized recommendations from their doctor before taking fish oil.

Purity is important because toxic contaminants like heavy metals and industrial pollutants are stored in animal fat, i.e. oils from fish. Look for a reputable brand that can provide proof of purity from an independent lab. I like Nordic Naturals because their fish oils are pure and they use only sustainably harvested fish to make their products.

Reference:

Rothwell PM et al. Effect of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death due to cancer: analysis of individual patient data from randomised trials. The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 7 December 2010.  doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62110-1

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