One hundred years ago, a young chemist in Germany made a discovery which, today, continues to ease our aches and pains, reduce our fevers, fight inflammation and save lives.
On August 10, 1897, this chemist, Felix Hoffmann, discovered a stable form of acetylsalicylic acid, the
active ingredient in aspirin. Hoffmann had been seeking a pain-relieving medication for his father’s
debilitating rheumatism. Not only did the drug ease his father’s pain and inflammation, but when it was marketed as aspirin by a company called Bayer two years later, it quickly became the world’s most popular pain reliever.
One century after Hoffmann’s discovery, aspirin continues to be the subject of extensive medical research and has gained recognition for life-saving properties as a cardiac care regime for millions of people. Bayer remains at the forefront as the major marketer of aspirin worldwide and is supporting research aimed at discovering new applications for its wonder drug, possibly helping to prevent everything from heart attacks to certain types of cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Aspirin: from willow tree to Nobel Prize
Aspirin’s active ingredient, acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), is the commercially synthesized form of a naturally occurring compound whose uses can be traced back 2,000 years. The compound, called salicin, is found in the white willow tree. Around 200 B.C., Hippocrates, the Greek physician, discovered that chewing on willow bark could relieve pain and fever.
Although ASA was a proven pain reliever, no one really knew how it worked until more than 70 years after Hoffmann’s discovery. In 1971, British pharmacologist John Vane discovered that the anti-inflammatory properties of ASA result from its ability to inhibit the body’s production of certain chemical mediators (prostaglandins) that promote inflammation and, therefore, cause pain. Vane received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1982 for this medical research breakthrough.
Bayer and aspirin
Bayer trademarked “Aspirin” in Germany on March 6, 1899. The name comes from “a” for “acetyl” and “spir” from “spirea,” a plant offering a natural source of salicin. The drug was released onto the market in 1899 as a powder and, by 1900, Bayer’s brand of aspirin became the first major drug to be marketed as a tablet.
During its first decade, aspirin was found by physicians worldwide to be so effective as a medicine, it became popularly used for a range of ailments from headaches, fever, inflammation, pleurisy and tonsillitis to tuberculosis, gonorrhea and gout. Affordable for practically everyone, aspirin quickly became a household necessity for safe and effective pain relief. Tens of thousands of people, took aspirin during several major influenza epidemics in the early 20th century.
Today in the United States alone, as many as 29 billion tablets are consumed each year.,
Aspirin’s recent reemergence can be attributed to several factors-its unsurpassed ability to fight pain and inflammation and the fact that it’s the only analgesic that can help save lives.
While the pain and inflammation-relieving uses of aspirin continue to expand, the role of this well-known drug in the prevention of major disease has become a research topic with increasingly important potential.
The most conclusive evidence of aspirin’s preventive benefits comes from decades of research related to its ability to help prevent heart attacks and strokes. Today, aspirin is not only known for its effect on the heart, but it is generally regarded as one of the safest, most cost-effective tools in the fight against cardiovascular disease.
Today and into the future, research on the emerging cardiovascular benefits of an aspirin regimen continues. Research is also ongoing to explore possible links between aspirin and prevention of other diseases including some cancers, diabetes, migraine headaches and Alzheimer’s disease.