If you take aspirin, you’ve got a pain reliever and heart attack preventer rolled into one tablet. You might think that whoever invented aspirin is a genius, but the truth is humans have been using its natural equivalent – willow bark – for thousands of years.
Salicin, the main active ingredient in white willow bark, is the chemical from which aspirin’s main active ingredient (salicylic acid) is derived.
The ancient Egyptians used willow bark as a remedy for aches and pains, said Diarmuid Jeffreys, author of “Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug.” They didn’t know that what was reducing body temperature and inflammation was the salicylic acid.
White willow trees are native to Europe and western and central Asia. And since 500 B.C., white willow bark has been used in China and much of Europe to treat fevers and arthritis. During the time of Hippocrates, people were advised to chew on the bark of white willow to relieve pain and fever.
Since then, many modern studies have shown that white willow bark quickly and safely relieves pain and reduces inflammation.
It works well not only for headache pain, but for the debilitating pain associated with migraine headaches. As interest in natural medicine has grown, many people have begun to turn back to white willow as an alternative to drugs like Aspirin, Advil, Tylenol and Aleve.
For instance, for those who suffer from a headache associated with hangover, the white willow bark will work both as anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain reducing) – it is the natural aspirin after all.
Scientific evidence shows that white willow bark is less likely than other common pain relievers to cause gastrointestinal side effects such as upset stomach.
Researchers speculate that white willow bark’s active ingredient, salicin, may be the reason it is gentler on the stomach than aspirin and other popular pain relievers like Advil, Tylenol and Aleve. While aspirin’s effects come directly from salicylic acid, the salicin in white willow bark is converted into salicylic acid only after being absorbed in the body.
Willow is available in several forms, including tablets, capsules, powder, and liquid. It has been used at daily doses corresponding to salicin 120 to 240 mg/day. Studies have found that peak therapeutic levels are reached within 2 hours after oral administration.
One of the great things about willow bark is that the side effects are generally mild and similar to those of aspirin. They may include, but are not limited to, nausea or upset stomach, ulcers and sometimes stomach bleeding. These effects are not common and are typically related to overuse. Those that are allergic to aspirin should not use willow bark in any form as a reaction can occur.
All in all, the pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties of willow bark are so powerful that no wonder it is commonly referred to as “nature’s aspirin.”