Plants with Aspirin Aspirations

Plants with Aspirin Aspirations
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Should the active ingredient in aspirin be considered an essential vitamin?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“The results of the recent aspirin meta-analyses—suggesting a reduction of cancer mortality by about one-third in subjects taking [daily low-dose] aspirin…, can justly be called astounding. Yet, the protection from ‘Western’ cancers enjoyed by [those eating more traditional plant-centered diets] is even more dramatic.”

Animal products made up only about 5% or less of the Japanese diets, until Japanese people began to Westernize their diets.  And, here’s their cancer rates, compared to the United States at the time. “Note that age-adjusted death rates from cancers of the colon, prostate, breast, and ovary were on the order of 5-10 [times] lower in Japan than in the US: [with] mortality from pancreatic cancer, leukemias, and lymphomas…3-4 fold lower. But, this phenomenon was by no means isolated to Japan; Western cancers were likewise comparatively rare in other…societies [where]…people ate plant-based diets.”

“The cancer protection afforded by lifelong consumption of a plant-based diet, in conjunction with leanness and insulin sensitivity [that tends to come along with it] may be very substantial indeed.  Therefore, a “lifestyle protocol for minimizing cancer risk” may include a “whole-food plant-based diet.”

Now, if part of this cancer protection arises out of the aspirin phytonutrients in plants, are there any plants in particular that are packed with salicylates? Though salicylic acid, the main active ingredient in aspirin, “is ubiquitously present in fruits and vegetables,…herbs and spices contain the highest concentrations.”

Chili powder, paprika, turmeric have a lot, but cumin is like 1% aspirin by weight. Eating a teaspoon of cumin is like taking a baby aspirin. “Consequently, populations that incorporate substantial amounts of spices in foods may have markedly higher daily intakes of salicylates. Indeed, it has been suggested that the low incidence of colorectal cancer among Indian populations may be ascribed in part to high exposure to dietary salicylates throughout life from spice consumption.”

“The population in rural India” has “one of the lowest [rates of colorectal cancer] in the world, and a diet that could be extremely rich in salicylic acid”—given the “substantial amounts of [plant foods] flavored with large quantities of herbs and spices.” Some have proposed it’s the curcumin in the spice turmeric; but, maybe it’s the salicylic acid in cumin. And, the spicier, the better.

A spicy veggie vindaloo may have four times the salicylates of a milder Madras-style veggie dish. One meal, and you get a spike in your bloodstream like you just took an aspirin. So, eating flavor-filled vegetarian meals, with herbs and spices, may be more chemoprotective—meaning more protective against cancer—than just regular, more bland vegetarian meals.

We may also want to eat organic. “Because salicylic acid is a defense hormone of plants, the concentration…is increased when plants become stressed”—like when plants are bitten by bugs, unlike pesticide-laden plants. And, indeed, soups made from organic vegetables were found to have nearly six times more salicylic acid than soups prepared from conventionally-grown ingredients.

We should also choose whole foods. Whole-grain breads, which are high in salicylic acid, contain about a hundred times more phytochemicals than white bread: 800, perhaps, compared to 8. That does raise the question, though: what about the other 799?

“Interest in the potential beneficial effects of dietary salicylates has arisen, in part, because of the extensive literature on the disease-preventative effects of Aspirin™. However, it should not be forgotten that plant products found to contain salicylic acid are generally rich sources” of a whole long list of other phytonutrients—many of which have marked anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, as well. “Their potential protective effects should [therefore] not be overlooked.”

“In this context, the importance of dietary salicylic acid should not perhaps be over emphasized. Indeed, some believe that ‘salicylic acid deficiency’ has [such] important public health implications that it should be classed as an essential vitamin—namely ‘Vitamin S’.”

But, what they’re really saying is that we should all just have to eat a lot of plants.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“The results of the recent aspirin meta-analyses—suggesting a reduction of cancer mortality by about one-third in subjects taking [daily low-dose] aspirin…, can justly be called astounding. Yet, the protection from ‘Western’ cancers enjoyed by [those eating more traditional plant-centered diets] is even more dramatic.”

Animal products made up only about 5% or less of the Japanese diets, until Japanese people began to Westernize their diets.  And, here’s their cancer rates, compared to the United States at the time. “Note that age-adjusted death rates from cancers of the colon, prostate, breast, and ovary were on the order of 5-10 [times] lower in Japan than in the US: [with] mortality from pancreatic cancer, leukemias, and lymphomas…3-4 fold lower. But, this phenomenon was by no means isolated to Japan; Western cancers were likewise comparatively rare in other…societies [where]…people ate plant-based diets.”

“The cancer protection afforded by lifelong consumption of a plant-based diet, in conjunction with leanness and insulin sensitivity [that tends to come along with it] may be very substantial indeed.  Therefore, a “lifestyle protocol for minimizing cancer risk” may include a “whole-food plant-based diet.”

Now, if part of this cancer protection arises out of the aspirin phytonutrients in plants, are there any plants in particular that are packed with salicylates? Though salicylic acid, the main active ingredient in aspirin, “is ubiquitously present in fruits and vegetables,…herbs and spices contain the highest concentrations.”

Chili powder, paprika, turmeric have a lot, but cumin is like 1% aspirin by weight. Eating a teaspoon of cumin is like taking a baby aspirin. “Consequently, populations that incorporate substantial amounts of spices in foods may have markedly higher daily intakes of salicylates. Indeed, it has been suggested that the low incidence of colorectal cancer among Indian populations may be ascribed in part to high exposure to dietary salicylates throughout life from spice consumption.”

“The population in rural India” has “one of the lowest [rates of colorectal cancer] in the world, and a diet that could be extremely rich in salicylic acid”—given the “substantial amounts of [plant foods] flavored with large quantities of herbs and spices.” Some have proposed it’s the curcumin in the spice turmeric; but, maybe it’s the salicylic acid in cumin. And, the spicier, the better.

A spicy veggie vindaloo may have four times the salicylates of a milder Madras-style veggie dish. One meal, and you get a spike in your bloodstream like you just took an aspirin. So, eating flavor-filled vegetarian meals, with herbs and spices, may be more chemoprotective—meaning more protective against cancer—than just regular, more bland vegetarian meals.

We may also want to eat organic. “Because salicylic acid is a defense hormone of plants, the concentration…is increased when plants become stressed”—like when plants are bitten by bugs, unlike pesticide-laden plants. And, indeed, soups made from organic vegetables were found to have nearly six times more salicylic acid than soups prepared from conventionally-grown ingredients.

We should also choose whole foods. Whole-grain breads, which are high in salicylic acid, contain about a hundred times more phytochemicals than white bread: 800, perhaps, compared to 8. That does raise the question, though: what about the other 799?

“Interest in the potential beneficial effects of dietary salicylates has arisen, in part, because of the extensive literature on the disease-preventative effects of Aspirin™. However, it should not be forgotten that plant products found to contain salicylic acid are generally rich sources” of a whole long list of other phytonutrients—many of which have marked anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, as well. “Their potential protective effects should [therefore] not be overlooked.”

“In this context, the importance of dietary salicylic acid should not perhaps be over emphasized. Indeed, some believe that ‘salicylic acid deficiency’ has [such] important public health implications that it should be classed as an essential vitamin—namely ‘Vitamin S’.”

But, what they’re really saying is that we should all just have to eat a lot of plants.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Food & Function

Doctor's Note

If you missed the first two videos in this series, I discuss the pros and cons in Should We All Take Aspirin to Prevent Heart Disease? and Should We All Take Aspirin to Prevent Cancer?.

The drug-like anti-inflammatory power of certain plant foods may make them a risky proposition during pregnancy. See Caution: Anti-inflammatory Foods in the Third Trimester.

Herbs and spices don’t just have some of the most anti-inflammatory properties, but also the most antioxidant power. See Antioxidants in a Pinch.

Note: around minute 3:40, Dr. Greger says “What happened to the other 799?” He meant “792.”

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