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An Aspirin a Day

July 15, 1986

Pill-popping Americans received some encouragement the other day from Dr. C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general. An aspirin a day will help keep heart attacks away, he admonished a nationwide television audience. His advice was directed at adults, those in their early 40s and older. He apparently was impressed with research indicating that aspirin can play a role in preventing platelets in the blood from clumping--the first step to a dangerous clot.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, is doing some research on the subject at this very moment, but won't have any findings for a few more years. Until now, the evidence has not been substantial enough to encourage the institute, the American Heart Assn. or the American College of Cardiology to take a stand.

There are inherent problems in the surgeon general's prescription for many Americans who do not tolerate gracefully the acidity of aspirin. That, according to an institute spokesman, has led some professionals to recommend the use of a single baby aspirin, containing less than two grains, or a buffered aspirin product that helps neutralize the acidity. For those who can tolerate such things, the spokesman said, there is no evidence that the aspirin will do any harm. And the research, involving 20,000 volunteer doctors, may prove that it can do some good.

Aspirin industry officials, who tell us that the present consumption of their product in the United States is 80 million tablets a day, must be jubilant. Any losses that they may have suffered in the shrinking children's market, because of linkage to Reye's syndrome when aspirin is used in connection with flu or chicken pox, would be small compared to the potential in the rapidly expanding over-40 market. If Koop's counsel is confirmed. And if senior stomachs hold out.

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