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Aspirin Induces Body Fat to Burn, Study Says

Tim Boyer's picture

Researchers in collaboration from the McMaster University, the University of Dundee and the University of Melbourne have just published in this week’s issue of the journal Science their surprising discovery that the active component of Aspirin— salicylate—induces body fat to burn in obese mice.

Salicylate is a natural chemical found in the bark of willow trees and in certain plants. Sources place the earliest possible medicinal use of willow bark dating as far back as 3000 BC where an ancient Sumer stone tablet from Ur makes mention of the use of willow tree for some remedies.

In 1543 BC an Egyptian papyrus believed to be a medical text mentions the use of willow and myrtle for the treatment of fever, inflammation and pain. And, around the 4th century, Hippocrates recommends the use of willow bark for childbirth pain and for treating a fever.

While there is much debate over who really invented modern-day Aspirin from salicylate, it was in 1915 when Aspirin became available as an over-the-counter medication in tablet form that we enjoy today.

Salicylates are a family of related drugs that reduces the effects of inflammation such as pain, swelling, redness and heat. The word salicylate refers to the active ingredient in this family of drugs as seen in chemical name of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid or ASA) or other aspirin-like medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs for short).

Many NSAIDs are chemically related to aspirin differing only slightly from each other in their salicylate chemical structure. However, they all have similar effects in the body as they chemically break down into salicylate. Small amounts of salicylate can relieve headaches, mild pain and fever, whereas larger amounts taken regularly relieve some of the pain, heat, redness, and swelling associated with the inflammation of several types of arthritis.

A list of the ever-broadening uses of Aspirin include the following:

• Treating mild to moderate pain

• Treating moderate to severe pain combined with other medications

• Fighting Rheumatic fever

• Treating Rheumatic arthritis and other inflammatory joint conditions

• To inhibit blood clot formation

• To reduce the risk of transient ischemic attacks and unstable angina

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• Stroke prevention

• Myocardial infarction prevention in patients with cardiovascular disease

• In the treatment of pericarditis

• In the treatment of coronary artery disease

• Treatment of Colorectal cancer

• Cancer prevention

However, a new use to be added to the list includes Aspirin’s ability to induce the burning of body fat.

In the recently published Science article, the collaborating researchers found that salicylate directly increases the activity of a biochemical protein called “adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase” (AMPK), which plays an important role in regulating cell growth and metabolism. AMPK is considered to be a type of cellular fuel-gauge that is switched on by exercise and by the commonly used anti-diabetic medication metformin.

“We’re finding this old dog of aspirin already knows new tricks,” said Dr. Greg Steinberg, a co-principal investigator of the study. “In the current paper we show that, in contrast to exercise or metformin which increase AMPK activity by altering the cells energy balance, the effects of salicylate is totally reliant on a single Ser108 amino acid of the beta 1 subunit.

More simply, their findings show that the salicylate component of Aspirin turns up cellular metabolism that translates into burning body fat as determined in animal studies using both normal mice and mice that lacked a key sequence that the salicylate reacts with via the AMPK protein.

“We show that salicylate increases fat burning and reduces liver fat in obese mice and that this does not occur in genetically modified mice lacking the beta1 subunit of AMPK,” says Steinberg.

The researchers are extending their findings in future large clinical trials to determine whether salsalate (a well-tolerated aspirin derivative) can prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “The Ancient Drug Salicylate Directly Activates AMP-Activated Protein Kinase” Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1215327; Published Online April 19 2012; Simon A. Hawley et al.