Carrots, spices and baby aspirin help prevent cancer and inflammation

 Aspirin has two active parts that help reduce pain and swelling. The salicylate was first isolated from myrtle and willow tree bark but it has since been identified in many plants and is particularly rich in herbs and spices including turmeric and mint. A compound similar to curcumin found in the spice turmeric has been found to have similar bioactivity and structure to salicylic acid. Benefits may include reduced breast, colon and prostate cancer risks:

“Dibenzoylmethane (DBM) has been reported to exhibit chemopreventive activities in several animal models, including mammary, colon and prostate tumorigenesis during the past few years.2,12–16” [2]

Production of the isolated phytochemicals are being studied but in the meantime spicing up the diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices seems like a good bet and it looks like a baby Aspirin might help protect against breast and prostate cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. Eating more fiber rich produce and spices would help protect against ulcer risks associated with regular use of Aspirin or ibuprofen (I think if I looked that ibuprofen would have similar protective effects because it also reduces the breakdown of endogenous cannabinoids which would reduce free arachidonic acid availability for breast or prostate cancer cells).

From the research article: Table 1: Examples of total salicylate content of food items. [1]
Food Item
Salicylate/ mg/kg
Food Item
Salicylate / mg/kg
Gala melon
Green beans
Green apple
Mange tout
Kiwi fruit
Mushroom (button)
Onion (white)
Spices and Herbs
Apple juice
Black cumin
Cranberry juice
Grapefruit juice
Chat masala
Orange juice
Garam masala
Pineapple juice
Tomato juice
White wine
Red wine

1. [] Garry G. Duthie and Adrian D. Wood, Natural salicylates: foods, functions and disease prevention, Food Funct, 2011, 2, 515-520, DOI: 10.1039/C1F010128E (full text free with login registration)

“Rodent models using ‘‘nutritional’’ rather than ‘‘pharmaceutical’’ dietary intakes indicate that salicylic acid modulates a range of proteins involved in protein folding, transport, energy metabolism and cytoskeletal regulation.40,41 The biological significance of these changes is unclear. However, several of the identified proteins are known to be involved in two major redox pathways (thioredoxin and glutathione). This strongly suggests that salicylic acid modulates interactive components of the cellular redox system, such as glutathione S-transferase yb-2, p53 and AP-1.42 Oxidative stress is implicated in the pathogenesis of many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and several cancers.43 Consequently, cellular exposure to low concentrations of salicylic acid may benefit health by regulating the activity or expression of transcription factors involved in modulating oxidative stress, such as the antioxidant response element.44 This potential effect is not, however, unique to salicylic acid as other dietary-derived phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, also activate this enhancer sequence, thus mediating the transcriptional activation of genes in cells exposed to oxidative stress.45”

“The bioactivity of Aspirin is unique in that it is characterised by two compounds within the same molecule. In addition to salicylic acid, the acetyl moiety is released within minutes of Aspirin consumption by enzymatic hydrolytic cleavage by esterases in the intestine, blood and liver.68 The binding of the acetyl group to serine530 in platelets inactivates the active site of cycloxygenase-1, thus preventing the access of arachidonic acid and irreversibly inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis. (*** also preventing access by prostate and breast cancer cells to the arachidonic acid breakdown metabolite 5-HETE) The resultant prevention of platelet aggregation is a major reason for the widespread use of Aspirin in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.69 However, the other primary metabolite of Aspirin , salicylic acid, has a much longer half-life of several hours.70 It is likely that its broad spectrum of cellular targets, already discussed, contributes to disease prevention through, for example, its anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and antioxidant activity. This view is supported by meta-analyses,71–73 which strongly corroborate the hypothesis that the regular consumption of Aspirin -derived salicylic acid can inhibit the incidence and progression of several diseases where platelet function is not a major consideration. However, the doses employed in such trials (30–1300 mg day 1) exceed that which can be obtained from diet alone. Current clinical data are most supportive of a 75 mg daily dose of Aspirin 74 (equivalent to 66 mg salicylic acid), which is readily available from pharmacies and retail outlets in the UK. Larger doses may be required to obtain significant anticancer effects, although a recent population study75 showed for the first time that doses of around 100 mg day 1 may confer some protection. This does not preclude the possibility that the sustained lower intakes achievable by the regular consumption of salicylate-rich diets may also have a disease-preventative activity. However, to date, no double-blind randomised controlled trials using doses of 5–10mg salicylic acid have been conducted in support of the hypothesis that dietary salicylates have long term health benefits. It should also be pointed out that even with therapeutic doses of acetylated salicylic acid of 75mg day 1, there is a peptic ulcer incidence of 5–10% over 3–6 months of usage, a bleeding complication rate of 0.5–2.0 per 100 patient years and a mortality rate of ulcer complications of about 5% of those who have been admitted to hospital due to ulcer bleeding.76 It is likely that the risk of GI toxicity from salicylate levels in food is low, but as a note of caution, Aspirin intakes as low as 10mg day 1 are reported to produce demonstrable gastric damage in humans.77”

Future perspectives

“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 other phenolic acids. For example, rich sources of hydroxycinnamic acids such as ferulic, synapic and caffeic acids include legumes, cocoa, fruit, herbs, nuts and cereals. In addition to salicylic acid, other hydroxybenzoic acids such as protocatechuic, vanillic and syringic acids are present in wine, berries, herbs, fruit juices and tea.78 Daily intakes of many may markedly exceed that of salicylic acid. Estimated intakes of caffeic and ferulic acid in a Finnish population are 417 and 129 mg, respectively.79 Many of these compounds also have a marked anti-inflammatory and redox-related bioactivity in mammalian cells.80 Their potential protective effects should not be overlooked. In this context, the importance of dietary salicylic acid should not perhaps be over emphasised. “

***This research team is encouraging the use of whole foods and the intake of a variety of active phytochemicals in the same dose. Earlier within the article the anti-cancer benefits of the dose available from food intake are compared with the dose from a baby aspirin or regular dose aspirin. Within the discussion section, excerpted above, the authors point out that many other active phytochemicals contained within a food would boost the active dose from eating more produce, herbs and tea (and moderate amounts of wine).

2. [] Chuan-Chuan Lin, Yue Liu, Chi-Tang Ho and Mou-Tuan Huang, Inhibitory effects of 1,3-bis-(2-substituted-phenyl)-propane-1,3-dione, β-diketone structural analogues of curcumin, on chemical-induced tumor promotion and inflammation in mouse skin, Food Funct., 2011, 2, 78-83 DOI: 10.1039/C0FO00098A
Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.