The first "inventors" of aspirin were the Sumerians who knew the medicinal virtues of willow leaves. They therefore used these willow leaves as painkillers and were especially used to relieve fevers. In the year 400 B.C, Hippocrates recommended to women to drink "Willow leaf teas" to relieve the pain while giving birth and to stop the fever.

It wasn’t until 1763, when the first known experiment on willow bark was conducted, that the herb’s effectiveness was proven. English scientist, Edmund Stone ground up the bark to treat 50 parishioners with rheumatic fever. He saw how it helped them and reported the results to the Royal Society of London, which published his findings. Willow bark was now an officially accepted medicine.

One would then have to wait until the 19th century to see the progress of aspirin. The advances made then, permitted the isolation and the identification of the principle actives responsible of the therapeutic properties of these remedies. That is exactly what the Italian Fontana and the Frenchman Leroux will do, respectively in 1825 and in 1829. Fontana will isolate the principle active of “white willow” and will name it salicin, whilst Leroux will analyse it.

Salicin was finally isolated as the key ingredient in willow bark. In the following years, it was processed into two medicinal compounds, salicylic acid and sodium salicylate. However, these new drugs also came with side effects—occasional nausea and stomach irritation.

In 1853, a French chemist, Charles Frederic Gerhardt tried to improve on the sodium salicylate mixture by combining it with acetyl chloride. He succeeded in producing a compound that was less irritating to the stomach. Then he felt that making it would be too tedious and abandoned his work.

Felix Hoffman, an industrial chemist, synthesized the substance, salicylic acid, and in 1893 he developed a commercial process for its production. In 1897, his superiors at Bayer named this product ASPIRIN. The “A” comes from acetyl chloride. The “SPIR” which comes from Spiraea ulmaria, the plant they used to obtain the salicylic acid from. The “IN” was a common ending for medicines at that time. It was then marketed in 1899. In 1900 Bayer had introduced aspirin in the form of water-soluble tablets, the first medication to be sold in this form.

How Aspirin Works:
No one knew how aspirin worked until the 1970s. John Vane, a British pharmacologist, discovered that aspirin works by reducing the body?s production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are fatty-acids derivatives that are chemical mediators in the body that promote swelling, which causes pain.

Taking aspirin can relieve a person from many of the effects of prostaglandins. It is used for temporary headache relief, muscular aches and pains, arthritis and menstrual pain. It is also used for the relief of fever and inflammation. Aspirin is also known to reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Aspirin is going to be around for a while as they find out more of what it can do. Especially how it can help our cardiovascular system.

More than a cure for headaches and minor pain, aspirin has been clinically proven to work wonders for many conditions. Aspirin is thought to be a potent drug for cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, stroke, infertility, herpes and blindness. Recent studies now hail it as new hope for prostate cancer patients.
People at risk of heart attack--the elderly, obese and smokers--are advised to take an aspirin a day. Aspirin is used to prevent and treat stroke. Studies have shown that long-term aspirin taking reduced the risk of death from colon cancer by 44 percent. Esophagus and breast cancer are added to the list, and people who take aspirin regularly are less likely to get cataracts. These are just some of the known uses, and new research papers are being published on the benefits of aspirin.

It is important to remember that for treatment of many of the conditions described here, aspirin should be taken only under controlled medical supervision.

Voltaire said “Doctors pour drugs of which they know little, into patients of whom they know less, for diseases of which they know nothing”.