If you're taking a daily aspirin to stay healthy, new evidence suggests you might want to reconsider.
A landmark US-Australian study has found taking aspirin daily does not improve the lifespan of people over 70, with researchers warning the costs may outweigh the benefits for healthy elderly people taking the medication to stave off various conditions.
The study involved 19,000 people aged over 70 and has been in practice for seven years.
Researchers have noted that the results only apply to those over 70 years of age who are otherwise healthy and not to those with existing conditions such as a previous heart attack, angina or stroke, where aspirin is recommended as a valuable preventive drug.
The study was of 19,114 people in the USA and Australia in good health, with no history of heart problems and over the age of 70.
For years, most people who have suffered a heart attack or stroke have been encouraged to take an aspirin a day to keep the doctor away.
The participants were randomly assigned to receive either 100 milligrams per day of aspirin or a placebo pill. They did, however, document a higher rate of bleeding in the group that received aspirin, compared to the group that received a placebo.
The study also discovered an increase in deaths from cancer, although the researchers think this needs further investigation as it goes against current findings in the field.
In the study, a preventive regimen of daily aspirin did not lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, but it did significantly increase the risk of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract or brain - bleeding severe enough to require hospitalization and/or blood transfusions.
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"But we have not identified results that are strikingly different", McNeil said in an email.
The trial has "provided convincing evidence that aspirin is ineffective in preserving good health in elderly people without a medical (reason) to be using it", chief author Dr John J. McNeil of Monash University in Melbourne told Reuters Health in an email. Patients who were black or Hispanic and living in the U.S. were included in the study as they face a higher risk of heart disease or dementia generally. Yet, many healthy older people continued being prescribed aspirin for this objective.
Their health was re-examined after around five years.
"If they have such disease in the past, they need to take the aspirin to prevent the recurrence of similar disease in the future", he said. It will do your heart health no good, as is popularly believed.
For healthy people, the study failed to show an overall benefit to offset the bleeding risk, he said.
The doctors unexpectedly found that those who took aspirin were slightly more likely to have died over the course of the trial (5.9%) than those who took the placebo (5.2%). "Particularly bleeding, which is more common in older people". Instead, it may cause them serious harm.
Aspirin has been widely used in healthy older adults to protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Since the 1960s it has been known that aspirin lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke among those who have had heart disease or stroke before.
The premiere study was an indiscriminate duplicate blind, placebo regulated trial, contemplated the gold caliber for clinical trials.