When Was Aspirin First Used?
Aspirin was first introduced into medicine in 1899 by H. Dreser of Germany. The word aspirin is actually the trade name for a preparation of acetylsalicylic acid. During the last century many preparations of this acid were introduced for medical purposes, but Dreser was the first person to produce one which was considered satisfactory.
The main ingredients of aspirin occur naturally in the flowers, fruits, leaves and roots of many plants. South American Indians were familiar with the beneficial effects obtained from the bark of sweet birch and the leaves of the wintergreen shrub, which produce a medicine very similar to aspirin.
Aspirin is widely used for the treatment of headaches, sickness, colds and influenza. But too many aspirin tablets, instead of relieving the patient, may cause dizziness, headaches and sickness, and so they should be used carefully.
If you take aspirin, you’ve got a pain reliever, heart attack preventer and possible cancer 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 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 has been making headlines because a study in the Lancet recently found that a daily aspirin appeared to lower the risk of cancer by at least 20% during a 20-year period. That’s based on data from more than 25,000 patients and builds on earlier findings that aspirin may lower the risk of colorectal cancer. The research has limitations and is not definitive proof, but it does add another benefit to an ancient remedy that has been called a miracle drug.
“There are no countries in which it is unknown, unappreciated, or unavailable,” the late medical writer Berton Roueché wrote in 1955, in an article later published in the anthology “The Medical Detectives.”
History of aspirin
The word “aspirin” wasn’t a coincidence. It comes from Spiraea, a biological genus of shrubs that includes natural sources of the drug’s key ingredient: salicylic acid. This acid, resembling what’s in modern-day aspirin, can be found in jasmine, beans, peas, clover and certain grasses and trees.
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.
Hippocrates, the Greek physician who lived from about 460 to 377 B.C., wrote that willow leaves and bark relieved pain and fevers.
It wasn’t until thousands of years later that people began to isolate the key ingredients of aspirin. An 18th-century clergyman, Edward Stone, rediscovered aspirin, in effect, when he wrote a report about how a preparation of powdered willow bark seemed to benefit 50 patients with ague and other maladies, Roueché wrote.
In the 1800s, researchers across Europe explored salicylic acid. French pharmacist Henri Leroux isolated it in 1829, Roueché writes. Hermann Kolbe discovered synthetic salicylic acid in 1874, but when administered often in large doses, patients experienced nausea and vomiting, and some even went into a coma. A buffer was needed to ease the effects of this acid on the stomach.
The aspirin we know came into being in the late 1890s in the form of acetylsalicylic acid when chemist Felix Hoffmann at Bayer in Germany used it to alleviate his father’s rheumatism, a timeline from Bayer says. Beginning in 1899, Bayer distributed a powder with this ingredient to physicians to give to patients. The drug became a hit and, in 1915, it was sold as over-the-counter tablets.
One patient who should not have been taking aspirin was young Alexei Nicholaevich Romanov of Russia, who had hemophilia. Aspirin would make the bleeding in this disorder worse, but the imperial doctors likely gave the boy this new wonder drug without knowing, Jeffreys said.
Alexei, son of the last czar, probably improved because the mystic Grigori Rasputin told the boy’s mother to stop modern treatments and instead rely on spiritual healing. Rasputin’s influence on the Romanov family may have contributed to the uprising against them, making aspirin a possible player in their murder and in the end of czarist Russia.
Aspirin’s uses for heart patients came to light in 1948 when California physician Dr. Lawrence Craven recommended an aspirin a day to reduce heart attack risk, based on what he had observed in patients.
The Nobel Prize in medicine in 1982 was awarded to researchers who demonstrated the reason — it inhibits production of hormones called prostoglandins. Prostoglandins are responsible for the formation of clots that leads to heart attacks and strokes, and aspirin prevents that clotting from happening.