Byline: By Robin Turner Western Mail
It's been said that aspirin is so powerful, if it were just being introduced today, it might be available only as a prescription drug. But more than a century after it was introduced to the world in 1897 aspirin is still one of the most popular remedies around the world, and nearly every week it seems we read about the discovery of new benefits from what is truly a 'wonderdrug'.
Not only is it perfect for staving off the effects of a heavy night's drinking, it is said to fight cancer, cut heart disease, reduce the possibility of Alzheimer's disease in old age and even combat arthritis.
And it is one of the cheapest items on the supermarket shelf.
The essential ingredient of aspirin, salycilic acid, has a long history.
Hippocrates the famous Greek physician wrote about it as long ago as the 5th century BC.
He found that a bitter tasting powder extracted from willow bark was amazingly effective in easing general body aches, headaches and pains and that it could also substantially reduce fevers.
The mighty Roman Army's physicians were also well stocked with willow bark.
The same bark powder was also used by physicians in the Middle East and the Cherokee Indians had been using it to good effect for thousands of years.
The medicinal part of the plant is the inner bark known as salicin, after the Latin name for the white willow (Salix alba). Modern chemists crystallised the bark extract into salicylic acid and the brand name Aspirin was first coined by the Bayer company of Germany.
The name 'aspirin' is composed of A (from the acetyl group) spir (from the plant genus spiraea) and in (a common ending for drugs at the time).
On March 6, 1899, Bayer registered aspirin as a trademark but historic events conspired to ensure aspirin would soon become freely available around the world.
The German company lost the right to use the trademark in many countries because the Allies seized and resold its foreign assets after World War I. The drug is now a medicine cabinet staple for millions around the globe.
A series of new studies announced in the US suggests those who take the cheap and popular painkiller are 16% less likely to develop cancer that those who do not. …