Inventions - Aspirin
Do you know what pain is? It’s that yucky feeling we get in our bodies when something is hurting us. And for a long time, people didn’t have many options for treating pain. But did you know that they used to chew on the bark of a willow tree to make the pain go away?
Yes, that’s right! For thousands of years, doctors would tell their patients to chew on willow bark or make tea out of willow leaves to help with their pain. Even Hippocrates, who was a famous doctor over 2000 years ago, recommended willow-leaf tea!
But it wasn’t until the 1800s that scientists figured out what was actually in the willow tree that made it helpful for pain and fever. They found a special substance called salicylic acid. However, when people tried taking salicylic acid on their own, it made their stomachs and mouths feel really irritated.
One day, a chemist named Charles Gerhardt mixed another chemical with salicylic acid and it worked really well! But it was really hard to make and took a lot of time. Gerhardt thought it wasn’t practical and gave up on it. But 41 years later, another chemist named Felix Hoffman was trying to help his dad with his arthritis. He found Gerhardt’s old experiments and discovered something amazing. He had “rediscovered” a new substance called acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin for short!
Even though Gerhardt thought his discovery wasn’t useful, today over 70 million pounds of aspirin are made every year all over the world. And scientists are still finding new ways to use it! They think it could help prevent heart attacks and strokes, slow the growth of cataracts and cancerous tumors, and even help people with diabetes. Hoffman and Dreser named aspirin after acetylation (the “a”), the spiraea plant (the “spir”), and the common ending for medicines at the time (the “in”).
But did you know that aspirin is not recommended for kids under 16 years old? That's because it might be connected to a condition called Reye’s syndrome. And did you know that Americans take more than 20 billion aspirin tablets every year? That makes it the most widely used drug in the whole country! And the best part is, people don’t have to chew on a tree anymore. They can just carry a little white aspirin tablet in their pocket!