People trust aspirin. It’s exceptionally common and widely used. It’s been on the market for many years. It has been tested safe by the FDA. It works.
However, if people are anything like me (and they so often are) there’s a lot they don’t know about aspirin. So, some facts you didn’t know you didn’t know:The basis of aspirin is a chemical called salicylic, and it is nothing new. The ancient Egyptians got it from the leaves of the myrtle bush, Native Americans took it from birch bark, and Europeans got it from the willow tree. So how does aspirin work?
Well, we don’t know, it just does.
Well, we don’t know, it just does. What happens in Aspirin…
At least, that was the answer for the first 70 or so years. It wasn’t until 1971 that a sexy scientist by the name of John Vane figured out that aspirin inhibited the enzymes known as COX-1 and COX-2. Why does this matter? Well, these enzymes make prostaglandins, which are sort of like a hormonal Pony Express, relaying messages throughout the body (actually they don’t move around the body, so they’re more like hormonal switch board operators, but I didn’t want to use such an archaic and outdated reference).This is where things start to get ironic. COX-1 is vital for normal stomach and kidney function, so inhibiting it with aspirin can cause big stomach problems. But, because COX-1 is being blocked, regularly taking aspirin can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Of course, the same blood thinning work aspirin does to prevent regular stokes increases your risk of hemorrhagic strokes (bleeding in the brain).
That’s right, you can actually cause one kind of stroke by preventing another.
They did. And it gave people heart attacks
This is because the body is all about balance. Just like cheesecake and children, COX-1 is only bad for you when you have the wrong amount.
With COX-2 things seem simpler. COX-2 is responsible for sending messages about pain, inflammation, and fever. So when you block COX-2 none of those messages get to your brain (remember that just like most over the counter stuff, aspirin treats the symptoms and not the disease. It doesn’t actually cure your arthritis, it just makes you forget about it for awhile).
That’s right, you can actually cause one kind of stroke by preventing another
So wait, if messing with COX-1 causes all these problems why not make a medicine that only inhibits COX-2? They did. And it gave people heart attacks.
Once again, it’s about balance. When taken straight from the willow tree, salicylic inhibits both COX-1 and COX-2, but when they are separated, all hell breaks lose. If by ‘all hell’ we mean massive and unexplainable cardiovascular problems, which sounds like hell to me.COX blocking aside (o_O), aspirin is still completely safe. That’s because in the United States safe means less than 16,500 deaths a year, which is how many people die from the side effects of aspirin. By these standards, you really should stop worrying about sharks, bears, and being struck by lightning.
In 2003, four people died from a shark attack. 26 died from contact with hot water (o_O). 5,462 died of intentional self poisoning. (Source: Vagabondish also photo above.)
I don’t mean to say that aspirin is evil. Far from it. I’m just using it as an example. It’s easy to take something like aspirin for granted. It’s easy to distance it from its natural roots. It’s easy to assume there’s no down side. It’s easy to think it must work since it’s been around so long. It’s easy to believe we’d never take medicine that we don’t understand.
The fact is that just because something’s not evil doesn’t mean it’s good for you, and just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Just don’t forget to keep your body balanced. And seriously, stay away from the sharks.
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