Up to one million people are having completely preventable headaches caused by overdosing on aspirin, according to new guidelines published by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
The condition, known as medication overuse headaches, traps sufferers in a vicious cycle of taking medication to relieve the pain, which actually serves to worsen their condition.
As part of the warning, the NICE recommended several other methods for treating acute headaches and migraines without resorting to aspirin or paracetamol, including acupuncture in some circumstances.
Medication Overuse Headaches (MOH): classified as headache or migraine conditions that worsen while the sufferer is taking a course of triptans, opiods, analgesics, paracetamol, aspirin or non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs for a period of three months or more.
According to a paper published in the journal Current Opinions in Neurology, the prevlance of MOH is around 1-2 per cent of the general population worldwide; however, the World Health Organisation (WHO) puts the figure closer to five per cent of the global population.
To make matters worse, research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism also found that popping an anti-inflammatory after a workout can also stifle the body’s natural production of the chemicals necessary for muscle growth and repair.
Should you ditch the pills?
According to Dr Manjit Matharu, a consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, there’s a tipping point at 10 to 15 days of using pain relief each month when the drugs become the issue.
"This is a huge problem in the population. The figures in terms of the number of people who have medication overuse headache are one in 50, so that is approximately a million people who have headaches on a daily or near daily basis because they're using painkillers," he said.
However, there is a growing body of research to suggest that a daily aspirin can also help prevent a whole host of cancers.
According to Professor Stephen Clarke of the Kolling Institute of Medical Research on Sydney’s North Shore, new research suggests that chronic inflammation could not only be an underlying cause of any number of diseases we lump together under the umbrella term “cancer”, but also the main reason we are unable to effectively treat them.
“It slows down the clearance of cancer drugs and causes more toxicity,” explains Clarke.
The best way to prevent chronic inflammation? According to Clarke, a daily dose of aspirin may be able to cut your risk of getting certain cancers by as much as 60 per cent.
VerdictIt's your call whether you ditch the pills in favour of alternative therapies, but you should assess your potential risk of suffering from MOH before you decide to give up on preventative paracetamol.