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History of Aspirin We'd bet you have aspirin stashed in your medicine cabinet, glove compartment and … your desk at the office! You'd be no different from millions of people who, over the last century, helped make aspirin the most widely used drug in the world.

How popular? How about a billion pills swallowed every year. Amazing. That's because aspirin's benefits have grown far beyond its initial uses as a pain reliever and fever reducer.

Now it's taken to prevent heart attacks and strokes, to treat colon cancer, diabetes and more recently, dementia.

I can't think of another drug that's been around as long and for which new uses are still being discovered. So who discovered this wonder drug?

We have to go back to 400 B.C., to a Greek physician named Hippocrates. He brewed willow bark to ease the pain of childbirth. What he didn't know was that willow bark contains salicin, the active ingredient in aspirin.

It took until 1823 for scientists to isolate the ingredient from willow bark and to call it salicin. Since only very small amounts of it could be extracted, it was too expensive to mass produce.

Yet within thirty years, several French chemists found better ways of extracting it. They produced salicylic acid – which is one step closer to aspirin.

The final step was buffering the acid with sodium when they saw that salicylic acid irritated the stomach.

In the end, a German scientist working for Friedrich Bayer and Company developed and patented a process for making the drug in bulk. And he called it aspirin. At first it was sold as a powder, until 1915 when the tablets came out.

Luckily for millions everywhere, the patent expired in 1930. Generic versions sprang up, beginning aspirin's incredible reach, which hasn't stopped yet.

 

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For more information…

For a very readable history of aspirin with historic photos, go here.

Bayer, the company involved in the development of the aspirin we take today has a very nice timeline about the discovery and history of aspirin.

For a very detailed treatise about the history of aspirin, go here.

For information about the structure of aspirin and how it works, go here.

For important information about the uses of aspirin, its safety and risks associated with its use, go to MedlinePlus, an excellent source of information.

 
 

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