Research takes fizz from daily aspirin use
AN aspirin a day does not keep the doctor away.
That is the finding of an Australianled international trial — the nation’s biggest clinical trial — which followed 19,000 healthy older adults for five years to see if aspirin could keep them healthier for longer.
The findings are a warning against using medications in healthy adults.
The Aspirin In Reducing Events In The Elderly (ASPREE) study found the tablet did not prolong life, ward off disability or prevent an initial heart attack or stroke in people older than 70.
It did, however, increase the risk of major bleeding and unexpectedly increased cancer risk. Lead researcher Professor John McNeil said the potential benefits of aspirin had been extrapolated from studies showing the blood-thinner could help prevent heart attack and stroke in those with a history of cardiovascular disease.
“We don’t want to scare people. Many people take aspirin for good reason,” the Monash University Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine department head said.
“Millions of people around the world take aspirin but the bottom line of this study is if there is no need for you to take it, and your doctor hasn’t advised you to, there is no benefit at all.”
Three papers from the study are published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Rates of heart attack, stroke, fatal heart disease and heart failure were similar across the aspirin and placebo groups but serious bleeding among those on aspirin was higher.
Cancer-related deaths affected 3.1 per cent of the aspirin group and 2.3 per cent of placebo. “We’re puzzling over this a little bit because it’s never been found before,” Prof McNeil said.
“In the past there has been good evidence to suggest that if you take aspirin for more than about five years it will help prevent cancer. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to keep following up these people.”
Heart Foundation chief medical adviser Professor Garry Jennings said the findings clarified who should take aspirin and who should not, thereby “helping save lives and prevent needless bleeding complications”.
Study participants will continue to be followed to see if any beneficial effects of aspirin emerge later in areas such as dementia risk and hearing loss as well as searching for clues on factors than can influence healthy ageing.
“We don’t understand why some people remain healthy for longer; is it genes or lifestyle?” Prof McNeil said. “ASPREE is probably one of the best placed studies in the world to investigate this.”