Can Low-Dose Aspirin Decrease Type 2 Diabetes Risk? Here’s What to Know

A woman in grey sweater taking a piill.
Low-dose aspirin is recommended for some people who have had major cardiac events. Valentina Barreto/Stocksy United
  • A study looked at whether taking low-dose aspirin reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes for older adults.
  • The study found adults over 65 who took a low-dose aspirin daily were associated with a 15% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Before doctors start prescribing aspirin to help prevent diabetes, researchers need to continue investigating the drug’s impact along with its risks.

Older adults may be able to lower their risk of type 2 diabetes by taking low-dose aspirin every day, new research suggests.

Adults aged 65 and up who took 100 milligrams of aspirin daily were associated with a 15% lower risk of diabetes, according to the findings, which will be presented at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes meeting in Hamburg, Germany, that runs from October 2 to 6.

The researchers conducted a follow-up study on the results from a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine 2018. 

They wanted to understand the effect of taking daily low-dose aspirin for older adults.

The daily aspirin appeared to improve both fasting plasma glucose (FPG) levels (which measures blood sugar) and type 2 diabetes risk in older adults. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory drug significantly increased the risk of hemorrhage and didn’t have a major impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Before doctors start prescribing aspirin to help prevent diabetes, researchers need to continue investigating the drug’s impact along with its risks.

“While this is exciting and encouraging, I’m skeptical about the magnitude of the results, and importantly, the abstract does not state the adverse events or risks involved,” Dr. Marilyn Tan, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, told Healthline. 

Low-dose aspirin linked to lower diabetes risk and better glucose levels

The original trial included 16,209 participants who were split into two groups: 8,086 people were assigned to take 100 mg of aspirin every day and the other group, consisting of 8,123 individuals, took a placebo. 

The participants were tracked for, on average, 4.7 years, and during the course of the study, 995 developed diabetes.

The research team found that, compared to those who took the placebo, the group that took aspirin had a 15% lower risk of developing diabetes. 

FPG also increased at a slower rate in the group that took aspirin. 

The original study found that daily aspirin was linked to a 38% heightened risk of major hemorrhage and no reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Serious risks with low-dose aspirin

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force currently recommends people over age 60 avoid taking daily low-dose aspirin as a primary strategy to reduce heart disease risk.

There can be very serious risks with taking low-dose aspirin, especially for older people.

“While aspirin is generally thought of as safe in most adults, there are risks, including the risk of bleeding, which can be quite significant, especially in an older population,” said Tan.

Recent studies have found that older people may not benefit from taking a daily aspirin unless they have already had a major cardiac event like a heart attack.

Future research is needed to better understand aspirin’s impact 

Dr. Dmitriy Nevelev, an associate director of cardiology at Staten Island University Hospital, said a major limitation is that the new findings are based on data that’s already been collected, which adds an element of working backward to identify possible correlations. 

“Although the results may show a statistically significant correlation, there’s always a hint of skepticism as this was not based on the hypothesis and experimental design of the initial trial,” Nevelev said. 

That said, these types of analyses can reveal findings worth exploring in future trials. 

Future randomized, placebo-controlled studies will help determine if aspirin does, in fact, cut the risk of diabetes in older adults, said Nevelev. 

Tan would also like to see future trials conducted in a broader, more diverse population. 

Aspirin may reduce diabetes risk by lowering inflammation

Aspirin has mainly been studied as a tool for preventing cardiovascular disease, and the new findings suggest it could play an important role in the prevention of diabetes, too, according to the researchers.

According to Tan, type 2 diabetes is multi-factorial, however, there’s a strong correlation between chronic inflammation and the blood sugar disorder.

In theory, because aspirin is an anti-inflammatory drug, it may slow down inflammation, and therefore, the development of diabetes. 

“My main takeaway is that it is encouraging that aspirin is unlikely to cause progression of diabetes,” said Tan.

That said, it’s unclear if and how aspirin, especially at a low dose, could have this effect, said Nevelev. 

“The anti-inflammatory benefits of aspirin are generally seen with higher doses, typically 300mg or more,” he said. 

Due to the adverse effects caused by aspirin, it may be worth first exploring non-pharmacologic interventions, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, for diabetes prevention.

The bottom line:

A new study finds that taking a low-dose aspirin may help reduce the risk of developing diabetes in older adults. Adults 65 and up who took 100 milligrams of aspirin daily had a 15% lower risk of diabetes than those who took a placebo. While the findings suggest aspirin could be used to help prevent diabetes, more research is needed to better understand the drug’s effect as aspirin can also cause serious adverse events like major hemorrhage.

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