Almost one week after Scotland announced plans to supplement the population with Vitamin D, a study in England has shown that population supplementation can do more harm than good, particularly when dosing individuals with the commonly used pain relief, aspirin.
In recent years, the Joint British Societies recommended a daily dose of 75mg per day for people over the age of 50 as a long-term preventative for heart attacks and strokes. Aspirin works to thin the blood by breaking bonds between platelets, resulting in a reduction of clots. This is particularly important for individuals at risk of heart disease or stroke and who may have suffered from these illnesses in the past.
The new study however shows that for individuals not at risk of either heart disease or stroke the dosing of aspirin can prove extremely harmful and in a worst case scenario, fatal. Previously, data showed that for people taking aspirin there was a 20% reduction in non-fatal heart attacks yet did not alter the number of fatal heart attacks, strokes or cancer. Meanwhile, results from the new study show that aspirin taken daily may actually lead to internal bleeding which ultimately could prove fatal.
This study proves to be pivotal in the debate on supplementing populations with medication. Little research has been conducted on the overall effects of supplementing various vitamins, minerals and in this case, over-the-counter medication to populations and opinion is divided in the medical and scientific community.
There is little doubt that for individuals with a history of heart disease or stroke should continue to take aspirin if it has been suggested by their physician, what is of concern is the long-term effects that medication such as aspirin can have on healthy individuals.
It is clear from this outcome that money should be invested in pharmaceutical research and that the health of the population has much to gain from the results. However, as with most research comes the difficulty in obtaining funding for studies along with statistically viable results. Such research could take years to implement with conclusions not being made public for almost a decade, in which case could prove too late for certain individuals. This scenario was seen in the late 1980s when it became known that folic acid was essential for pregnant women and the health of their baby however long-winded studies meant that many children were born with defects directly related to a lack of folic acid.
With the issue making headlines since the beginning of the year, it can surely only mean good news for medical and scientific research to further develop in this field. It is however, concerning just how many over-the-counter medications are being taken on a daily basis that have the potential to cause long-term illness or distress to the body. For those of us taking the odd head ache tablet or pain relief there is no need to worry, rigorous testing and clinic trials by pharmaceutical companies prior to release means that intake of medicines such as paracetamol and aspirin are still safe to take on occasion.