OCT 08, 2017 8:11 AM PDT

Where Does Aspirin Come From?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Formally known as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), aspirin is one of the cheapest and most widely used over-the-counter drugs. This humble drug is used to treat a variety of health conditions like the common fevers, headaches, muscle pain, and inflammation. A number of recent research have also linked aspirin with anti-cancer effects. It may be surprising to know, then, that aspirin has been around for thousands of years.

"Aspirin is one of those things that, long before there were ever clinical trials or any kind of scientific knowledge, people figured out, 'Hey, I feel better when I take this substance,' " said Dr. Karol Watson, assistant professor of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The drug's secret ingredient, salicylic acid, is found in the bark of the willow tree and other salicylate-rich plants. This compound was synthesized in the lab in 1853 by chemist Charles Gerhardt. By 1899, Bayer branded the drug Aspirin (after Spiraea, a genus of plants that contain salicylic acid) and began selling the drug globally. Despite fierce competition with new drugs, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, aspirin's popularity remains as strong today as it had been back in Hippocrates' time.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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