As I pointed in my first book, “The Zone,” more than 15 years ago, aspirin remains a wonder drug because of its ability to reduce inflammation (1). The medical community now uses aspirin for the prevention of strokes and heart attacks, but a recent study may extend its anti-inflammatory benefits to cancer survivors.
A study pre-published online from The Lancet examined various clinical trials comparing the long-term mortality of those individuals who used aspirin or didn’t (2). This meta-analysis study indicated that relatively low-dose aspirin (about 75 mg or a baby aspirin a day) reduced cancer deaths in various long-term cancer survivors by about 20 percent. So should all of us be taking a baby aspirin daily? Possibly, but aspirin does have side effects, especially in terms of bleeding.
But one thing you can do with total safety is to boost your intake of fruits and vegetables. It turns out that fruits and vegetables contain salicylates, the group of compounds that represents the major active ingredient in aspirin. In addition, fruits and vegetables also contain other anti-inflammatory polyphenols (the chemicals that give plants their color). Since plants don’t have access to the local pharmacy to protect themselves from microbial invasion, they have to synthesize their own “drugs”. By consuming fruits and vegetables, we are constantly visiting our “food” pharmacy. Their defense mechanisms now become our nutritional allies in silencing inflammatory gene expression that is turned on when certain food components (such as omega-6 and saturated fats) fool the most primitive part of the immune system (the innate immune system) to think it is under microbial attack.
Most of the inflammation that drives cardiovascular disease and cancer starts with this type of cellular inflammation induced by our diet (3). It’s taken new breakthroughs in molecular biology to finally understand that what’s good for the plant is also going to be great for us if we want to live a longer and better life.
- Sears B. “The Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1995).
- Rothwell PM, Fowkes FG, Belch JF, Ogawa H, Warlow CP, and Meade TW. “Effects of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death due to cancer: analysis of individual patient data from randomized trials.” Lancet, Early Online Publication, 7 December (2010).
- Sears B. “The Anti-Inflammation Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (2005).