Illustration of Aspirin

1897 Aspirin

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Arthur Eichengrün, Felix Hoffmann pharmacology Illustration of Aspirin


Bayer patented aspirin perfecting a process for making pure acetylsalicylic acid which is less harsh to the gastrointestinal tract than pure salicylic acid. Salicylic acid in Meadowsweet and willow bark eased headaches, pain, and fever for Native Americans and the ancient Greeks. Today forty million kilograms are swallowed each year.

War reparation

In other countries, Aspirin with a capital ‘A’ is trademarked; the generic name is acetylsalicylic acid. Bayer lost the trademarked name in the Allied nations in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. Before the end of the war Bayer had expunged records of Jewish contributions, so that Eichengrün’s claim that Hoffmann was only a lab assistant cannot be proven.

Take two aspirin

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning. You’re OK; you’re suffering only an abnormality. Relax and gradually you’ll get used to it.

In today’s regulatory environment, because of its gastrointestinal side-effects, acetylsalicylic acid might would not likely be approved as an over-the-counter medicine. Although there are numerous alternative non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including natural ones such as figwort (which has almost no side effects), aspirin remains the most widely used.

How aspirin works remained a mystery until 1971, when John Robert Vane, showed aspirin “suppressed the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes.” Prostaglandins are cell messengers and have many roles in the body, such as causing constriction and dilation of muscle cells, aggregating platlets, and regulating inflammation; thromboxanes help form blood clots.

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