Could aspirin prevent liver damage?

A daily dose of aspirin may help prevent liver damage caused by excessive paracetamol use, heavy drinking and obesity, media reports have claimed.

Aspirin fights liver inflammation
Aspirin fights liver inflammation

US researchers found that mice were less likely to die from liver damage if they were given a small dose of aspirin.

But they stress that it is still too early to recommend regular aspirin use to prevent liver damage in humans. Previously, experts have warned against regular aspirin use because of increased risk of GI bleeding.

What is the research?
The researchers proposed that aspirin could be used to block key proteins involved in a chain reaction of inflammation that is triggered by alcohol or paracetamol misuse and eventually leads to liver damage.

A group of mice were given low-dose aspirin in drinking water for 60-72 hours and then given an overdose of acetaminophen, the active ingredient of paracetamol. The mice were monitored for 72 hours following the overdose.

A control group of mice, that had not been fed the aspirin, were also given the acetaminophen and observed.

Overall, the researchers found that the mice given aspirin before paracetamol were less likely to die from liver damage than mice that had not been given aspirin.

What do the researchers say?
Lead researcher Dr Wajahat Mehal, from the Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut, told GP that this was the first study to show that aspirin can fight inflammation caused during liver damage.

'When the body gets injured there is the initial injury and then a secondary inflammation. What we have found is that with paracetamol, switching off the inflammatory response with aspirin reduces the overall injury.'

However, human studies are needed to get practical information on the strength of the dose and how often a patient will need to take the drug, Dr Mehal said.

'As the mechanism of liver protection is different to cardiac protection, it is likely the drug will have to be given more than once a day. I would expect that it would need to be given at least twice a day.'

Informing patients
  • Daily aspirin use could help to prevent liver damage.
  • The studies were performed in mice and have yet to be replicated in humans.
  • GPs should warn patients that regular aspirin use can cause side-effects such as GI bleeding.

What do other researchers say?
A spokesman for the British Liver Trust, said: 'There is no evidence that aspirin can protect you from a paracetamol overdose or long-term heavy drinking, and this is a dangerous conclusion to draw from this study.

'People who have taken a paracetamol overdose need immediate medical treatment, even if they feel well. They have a very limited time window to get treatment before suffering irreversible liver damage.'

Aspirin itself can have adverse effects, and people should consult their doctor for advice before taking it long-term. It can be particularly dangerous for those who already have liver problems, added the British Liver Trust.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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