Roundup: Aspirin Therapy May Reduce Risk of Some Cancers, Study Says; Black Licorice Side Effects

Taking low-dose aspirin daily can lower your risk of some digestive system cancers, according to a newly published study involving more than 600,000 people.

Aspirin therapy is prescribed broadly to reduce the risk of heart attacks, and the new research adds how it can reduce the incidence of five types of cancer.

Researchers studied the impact of daily aspirin use among 50- to 65-year-olds in the United Kingdom over the course of 10 years.

The study compared cancer risk among people who had taken aspirin for at least six months (7.7 years on average), with non-aspirin users. After accounting for a range of factors, the risk of cancer among the aspirin users was: 47 percent lower for liver and esophageal cancer; 34 percent lower for pancreatic cancer; 24 percent lower for colorectal cancer; and 38 percent for gastric cancer.

Previous studies have found that regular aspirin use can lower the risk of colorectal cancer. A 2016 report by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended low-dose aspirin as an effective preventative therapy.

For decades, low-dose aspirin has been part of treatments to fight heart disease. Aspirin therapy has been proven to lower heart attack risks for men 50 and older, and women 60 and older. However, no one should begin regular aspirin use without consulting their doctor. The overuse of aspirin can have serious side effects, including the risk of stomach and brain bleeding, which can be fatal.

No one should rely on aspirin as a preventive measure against cancer, says Grace Wang, M.D., an oncologist with Miami Cancer Institute. A healthy lifestyle is the best preventive practice when it comes to heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases, she says.

“I suggest that to reduce your risk of being diagnosed with cancer, it is best for you to eat a healthy diet, maintain a normal weight, exercise, limit your alcohol consumption and – most of all – quit smoking,” Dr. Wang says.

The latest research on aspirin was presented this week at the 25th UEG (United European Gastroenterology) conference in Barcelona. The findings were published in the journal Gastroenterology.

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FDA Acts to Revoke ‘Soy Protein’ Health Claim

In an unusual move, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said this week that it is proposing to reverse the previously authorized health claim that soy protein reduces heart disease risk.

FDA-authorized health claims are usually based on well-established and robust scientific evidence. Soy protein comes from soybeans, and some research has indicated that daily intake of soy protein may slightly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol, possibly leading to healthy-heart benefits. The FDA authorized that health claim in 1999. But clinical studies since then have altered the U.S. agency’s position.

“Today, we are proposing a rule to revoke a health claim for soy protein and heart disease,” said a statement from Susan Mayne, director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “For the first time, we have considered it necessary to propose a rule to revoke a health claim because numerous studies published since the claim was authorized in 1999 have presented inconsistent findings on the relationship between soy protein and heart disease. This proposed action, which has undergone a thorough FDA review, underscores our commitment to providing consumers with information they can trust to make informed dietary choices.”

For example, some studies, published after the FDA authorized the health claim, show inconsistent findings concerning the ability of soy protein to lower heart-damaging low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, Ms. Mayne states.

“Our review of that evidence has led us to conclude that the relationship between soy protein and heart disease does not meet the rigorous standard for an FDA-authorized health claim,” she states.

The FDA clarifies that soy protein products can still be part of an overall healthy diet.

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FDA Cautions Against Eating Too Much Black Licorice Candy

If you’ve selected a stack of black licorice candy from the Halloween pile and are getting ready to eat it, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a message for you. Don’t eat large quantities of these sweet treats, especially if you’re 40 years old or older. Eating two ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia, the agency cautioned in a consumer update issued the day before Halloween.

Made from licorice root, a low-growing shrub mostly grown for commercial use in Greece, Turkey and Asia, black licorice gets its sweetness from glycyrrhizin, a compound from the root of the plant. Glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall, the FDA says, causing some people to have abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy or even congestive heart failure.

While many “licorice” or “licorice flavor” candies made in the U.S. contain anise oil, which tastes and smells the same as licorice, FDA’s Linda Katz, M.D., says last year the agency received a report of a black licorice aficionado who had a problem after eating the candy. And several medical journals have linked black licorice to health problems in people over 40, some of whom had a history of heart disease and/or high blood pressure, said the FDA consumer update. A person’s potassium levels usually return to normal without any permanent health side effects after you stop eating black licorice, Dr. Katz said.

The licorice plant has long been used as folk or traditional therapy in Eastern and Western medicine, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Some of the conditions licorice has been used to treat include heartburn, stomach ulcers, bronchitis, sore throat, cough and some infections caused by viruses, such as hepatitis. However, NIH says there is insufficient data available to determine if licorice is effective in treating any medical condition, the FDA update stated.

FDA offers this advice to those who like to eat black licorice:

  • No matter what your age, don’t eat large amounts of black licorice at one time.
  • If you have been eating a lot of black licorice and have an irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness, stop eating it immediately and contact your doctor.
  • Black licorice can interact with some medications, herbs and dietary supplements. Speak with a healthcare professional if you have questions about possible interactions with a drug or supplement you take.

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