Wonder drugs come and go, but aspirin does seem to be the real deal.
Its medical benefits, including protecting against heart attacks and strokes, have been well-documented since it became commercially available around 100 years ago. But thanks to a new study, we now know it could dramatically cut cancer rates, too. As revealed in the medical journal The Lancet, the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin may help directly repair damaged DNA that can trigger cancers.
The natural chemical from which it is formed - salicylate - appears to assist “apoptosis”, or the programmed death, of cells which might otherwise grow into tumours.
Its newly discovered anti-cancer properties may help shed light on the cancer epidemic we face today. Rates of the disease have been rising dramatically for years, despite the advent of modern medicine.
Some point to lack of exercise, food additives and modern pollutants, but the intriguing suggestion is that modern farming techniques are stripping salicylate from the plants we eat. Our desire for perfect, shiny fruit and vegetables means we protect most of our food crops from the ravages of nature in various ways, and so their flesh ends up being poor in the protective chemical.
Higher cancer rates are, therefore, possibly caused by the lack of salicylate in our diets, and taking aspirin would help to remedy this.
The irony is that were aspirin to be discovered today, it would almost certainly not be licensed.
Clinical trials would reveal the side-effects - such as stomach ulcers and bleeding - long before the dramatic benefits became clear; no drug firm would touch the stuff.
It seems we have the robust attitudes of an earlier age to thank for the fact you can buy this amazing drug for a penny a pop.