Aspirin makes it harder for blood clots to form
A dose of aspirin may be able to prevent liver damage caused by paracetamol or heavy drinking, suggest researchers.
The Yale University team, writing in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, found aspirin cut death rates in mice given a paracetamol overdose.
They believe it interferes with a chemical pathway that triggers damaging inflammation within the organ.
However, the British Liver Trust said it was not yet proven to help humans.
Rates of liver cirrhosis have risen in the UK in recent years as people drink more alcohol, and paracetamol overdose, both deliberate and accidental, accounts for well over 100 deaths per year.
Scientists looking at how alcohol and paracetamol cause damage to the liver have found that a chain reaction of inflammation can be triggered after the initial damage caused by these two chemicals.
This inflammatory response can mean that the eventual damage to the organ is much greater.
The latest research found that mice were less likely to die after being given too much paracetamol, if they were also given a small dose of aspirin.
The scientists believe it works by blocking a chemical receptor in liver cells. It is this receptor which triggers the inflammatory response.
They isolated particular molecules, called TLR antagonists, which can also block this receptor, but believe that the cheapness of aspirin could make it a useful therapy.
Dr Wajahat Mehal, who led the study, said: "Many agents such as drugs and alcohol can cause liver damage, and we have found two ways to block a central pathway responsible for such liver injury.
"Our strategy is to use aspirin on a daily basis, to prevent liver injury, but if it occurs, to use these TLR antagonists to treat it."
Research has suggested the painkiller may have the following benefits:
Cuts risk of blood clots, and therefore heart attack and strokes
Protects against breast cancer caused by oestrogen
Helps prevent asthma
Cuts the risk of deep vein thrombosis
May help women who have had repeated miscarriages to have a baby
Helps prevent pre-eclampsia
Blocks development of cataracts
He said: "This offers the exciting possibility of reducing a lot of pain and suffering in patients with liver disease, using a new and very practical approach."
A spokesman for the British Liver Trust urged caution, however: "While we welcome any advances in protecting the liver from damage, we would urge anyone who has taken more than the prescribed dose of paracetamol to seek immediate medical advice.
"It is also important to remember that to date nothing has been clinically proven to protect the liver from alcohol abuse.
"We would also recommend that anyone proposing to take aspirin for more than a few days should consult their doctor for advice."
NHS Direct warns that aspirin can cause irritation to the stomach lining and an increased risk of bleeding and ulceration.