Health & Family

People’s Pharmacy: Aspirin shown to reduce risk of breast cancer

Q. I am a participant in the NIEHS Sister Study because my younger sister had bilateral breast cancer in pre-menopause. I have long intuited that my use of aspirin for hip and knee arthritis has been protective. I am grateful to learn that aspirin may indeed act against cancer.

A. The Sister Study run by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has recruited 50,000 women who have sisters with breast cancer. The goal is to determine which environmental and genetic factors could play a role in breast cancer in this high-risk group.

A report from this study was published in BMC Cancer (online, Dec. 16, 2015). It found that regular aspirin use reduced the risk of breast cancer among premenopausal women.

Aspirin not only appears to reduce the risk of developing certain cancers (colorectal, esophageal, stomach and lung), it also may reduce the likelihood that cancer will spread (PLOS ONE online, April 20, 2016). No one should start aspirin without medical supervision, though, as it can cause serious side effects and may interact with other medications.

Banana peel on rash

Q. I read in your column about using banana peel on a poison-ivy rash. There’s a product out there that beats anything I have ever tried for my severe bouts of poison ivy. Zanfel is a mixture of soaps that has an affinity for the urushiol oil that causes the rash. One day I got a few spots on my cheek from cutting weeds and used Zanfel as directed. The itching stopped for six hours after use, and the rash was gone in about six days; normally the rash remains for 14 to 16 days.

A. The maker of Zanfel maintains that it is able to break the bond that urushiol makes with skin so that the irritating oil can then be washed off. If you live where poison ivy, oak or sumac is abundant, it certainly makes sense to keep some on hand. The sooner you remove urushiol after contact with poison ivy, the better the result.

So much for healthy eating

Q. We have followed a low-fat, healthy diet for years, eliminating saturated fats and using canola and olive oil for cooking. We rarely eat in restaurants, don’t eat junk food, read labels for salt and fat content and basically watch what we eat. A recent test revealed that my husband has blocked arteries. He will undergo quadruple-bypass surgery tomorrow.

A. Your story reveals the flaws in the “diet-heart hypothesis.” There is growing awareness, based on scientific trials, that controlling cholesterol by cutting back on saturated fat and increasing vegetable-oil consumption does not prevent heart attacks (Annals of Internal Medicine, March 18, 2014).

The most recent confirmation of this heresy comes from the Minnesota Coronary Experiment carried out between 1968 and 1973. A new analysis of the raw data concludes that substituting vegetable oil for saturated fat does not lower the risk of death from heart attacks (BMJ online, April 12, 2016).

There are more than 246 risk factors for heart disease (New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 14, 2002).

Joe and Teresa Graedon: www.peoplespharmacy.com

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