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Home / Journal / Willow Bark is Nature's Aspirin for Headache

Willow Bark is Nature's Aspirin for Headache

Did you know that white willow bark – the so-called “ Nature’s Aspirin” – banishes pain from headaches and migraines as effectively as drugs, with less risk of dangerous side effects?

If you take aspirin, you've got a pain reliever and heart attack 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 - willow bark - for thousands of years.

Salicin, the main active ingredient in white willow bark, is the chemical from which aspirin’s main active ingredient (salicylic acid) is derived.

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.

White willow trees are native to Europe and western and central Asia. And since 500 B.C., white willow bark has been used in China and much of Europe to treat fevers and arthritis. During the time of Hippocrates, people were advised to chew on the bark of white willow to relieve pain and fever.

Since then, many modern studies have shown that white willow bark quickly and safely relieves pain and reduces inflammation.

It works well not only for headache pain, but for the debilitating pain associated with migraine headaches [1]. As interest in natural medicine has grown, many people have begun to turn back to white willow as an alternative to drugs like Aspirin, Advil, Tylenol and Aleve.

For instance, for those who suffer from a headache associated with hangover, the white willow bark will work both as anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain reducing) - it is the natural aspirin after all.

Scientific evidence shows that white willow bark is less likely than other common pain relievers to cause gastrointestinal side effects such as upset stomach [2].

Researchers speculate that white willow bark’s active ingredient, salicin, may be the reason it is gentler on the stomach than aspirin and other popular pain relievers like Advil, Tylenol and Aleve. While aspirin’s effects come directly from salicylic acid, the salicin in white willow bark is converted into salicylic acid only after being absorbed in the body [2].

Alleviates Acne

Willow bark extract has been used for years for many purposes because of its anti-inflammatory properties. This extract can do wonders for acne, as it is a natural source of salicylic acid. It also helps to exfoliate the skin and clear pores.

A study [4] published in the journal Clinical Therapeutics found mild or moderate acne can be treated with nonprescription agents such as salicylic acid. This agent can reduce the number of primary lesions and therefore, the severity of all acne-related lesions. Salicylic acid has been shown to be more superior to benzoyl peroxide in reducing acne.

Reduces Headaches

If you suffer from chronic headaches and migraines, you might be able to benefit significantly from the pain-relieving qualities of willow bark. [5] It can help eliminate migraines by lowering the blood pressure in the small capillaries and blood vessels in the head, easing pressure and relieving those painful, debilitating symptoms. It can also be used as a preventive method for regular headaches.

Eases Lower Back Pain

According to a study [6] published in the American Journal of Medicine, willow bark was empirically tested for its effects on low back pain. Nearly 200 individuals with low back pain were given doses of both high and low amounts of willow bark, along with no dosage for a control group. Individuals who received high doses of willow bark had a significant decrease in pain symptoms, with less pain improvements in those who took a lower dose. The researchers concluded that willow bark extract was a “useful and safe treatment for low back pain.”

Prevents Heart Attacks

The American Heart Association acknowledges a daily low-dose of aspirin a day can prevent heart attacks and stroke. The tablet has been linked to reducing the risk of internal clotting, which is related to these two health conditions. Since the effects of aspirin and willow bark have been comparable, it is believed willow bark extract may reap similar benefits.

Dosage

Willow is available in several forms, including tablets, capsules, powder, and liquid. It has been used at daily doses corresponding to salicin 120 to 240 mg/day. Studies have found that peak therapeutic levels are reached within 2 hours after oral administration.

Side Effects

One of the great things about willow bark is that the side effects are generally mild and similar to those of aspirin. They may include, but are not limited to, nausea or upset stomach, ulcers and sometimes stomach bleeding. These effects are not common and are typically related to overuse. Those that are allergic to aspirin should not use willow bark in any form as a reaction can occur.

All in all, the pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties of willow bark are so powerful that no wonder it is commonly referred to as “nature’s aspirin.”

Sources:

  1. Efficacy and Safety of White Willow Bark (Salix alba) Extracts
  2. Willow species and aspirin: different mechanism of actions
  3. From a tree, a 'miracle' called aspirin
  4. Treatment of acne vulgaris with salicylic acid pads
  5. Acetylsalicylic acid in the treatment of headache
  6. Treatment of low back pain exacerbations with willow bark extract: a randomized double-blind study
  7. Treatment of low back pain with a herbal or synthetic anti-rheumatic: a randomized controlled study. Willow bark extract for low back pain

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