White Willow Bark: Nature’s Aspirin
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White Willow Bark: Nature’s Aspirin

November 03, 2020

For many years, willow bark has been utilized globally as a natural alternative to aspirin. This is because the bark of the white willow, or salix alba, contains many beneficial elements. Most notable of these is salicin. This chemical is exceptional in relieving pain and inflammation caused by a number of conditions.

There are multiple types of willow trees but the ones most commonly used in the medical field are the white willow and the black willow. White willow bark can easily be found and purchased in a variety of forms. These include the bark itself, which can be chewed on, a powder to be made into tea or taken in pills, and liquid extract. The standard dosage, as recommended by the University of Maryland Medical Center, is 240 mg daily.

How Does It Work?

As stated above, salicin is the primary force behind the medicinal properties of white willow bark. This chemical compound acts as an inhibitor to nonselective COX-1 and COX-2 (cyclooxygenase) and effectively moderates prostaglandin release, which combats inflammation. When our body ingests salicin it naturally converts it into salicylic acid. This compound is the precursor to pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Because of this shared chemical, white willow bark acts in much the same way as aspirin in relieving pain and inflammation.

It is recognized that additional benefits come with using white willow tree bark. Even though it does inhibit platelet aggregation, causing blood thinning, it does this at a lesser rate than aspirin. Additionally, white willow bark contains other beneficial elements such as tannins, flavonoids, and polyphenols. It has been suggested that tannins hinder or even stop growth of certain bacteria, viruses and fungi. Furthermore, they assist in blood clotting which may benefit those with heart conditions by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol. Polyphenols and flavonoids share characteristics of anti-oxidants, fever reducers, antiseptics, and immune boosters.

What Conditions Does It Combat?

White willow bark can help relieve pain and inflammation in a number of conditions. People who have been utilizing aspirin for treatment of the following conditions may find white willow bark to be a more beneficial and natural alternative.

Chronic Back and Lower Back Pain

A common contributor to back pain is inflammation. White willow bark combats this by blocking cyclooxygenase. This enzyme plays a role in the formation of prostaglandins which cause inflammation. In a study presented in the American Journal of Medicine, patients were given a placebo or a daily dose of either 120 mg or 240 mg of salicin. It was observed, among 210 patients who took part, that 39 percent of those taking the higher dosage of salicin were free of lower back pain for 5 days. Moreover, those who were administered the smaller dosage of salicin experienced a 21 percent reduction in pain as opposed to the 6 percent of the placebo group.


Through decreasing swelling and inhibiting cyclooxygenase, and by extension inflammatory prostaglandins, salicin reduces pain in those afflicted by osteoarthritis. A study presented in the Journal of Rheumatology showed that individuals who took 240 mg of salicin in the form of willow tree bark extract experienced a pain reduction 12 percent greater than those who took the placebo.

Joint Pain

In much the same way as the previous conditions white willow bark can alleviate inflammation in joints. There are of course other ways of reducing inflammation in your joints. If your specific concern is with recurring pain in the joints HoltraCeuticals provides Joint Pain Rx, a supplement focused primarily on providing joint, muscle, and tissue support. By utilizing natural ingredients as well as glucosamine sulfate, a naturally occurring chemical in the body, Joint Pain Rx combats arthritis and other joint pain contributors. Furthermore, this dietary supplement actually contains white willow extract, which provides similar benefits of NSAIDs while reducing side effect intensity.

Menstrual Cramps

Although there is no specific scientific research pointing to its effectiveness, professional herbalists have recommended willow bark in easing menstrual cramps. In most cases menstrual cramping is caused by inflammation of the uterine lining in addition to contractions (cramping) brought on by excess prostaglandins. As noted above, white willow bark inhibits prostaglandin production, thereby reducing inflammation and pain. Additionally, this alternative may reduce cramping and PMS symptoms. However, because this treatment can act as a blood thinner it may cause increased bleeding during menstruation.
Other notable conditions that white willow bark has a positive impact on include:

  • Inflammatory conditions including bursitis and tendonitis
  • Headaches
  • Heart Attack Prevention
  • Acne Prevention

Side Effects and Precautions

The side effects of white willow bark are milder than aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). However, similar effects may occur such as ringing in ears, ulcers, stomach pain, bleeding disorders, cramping, nausea, rash, and kidney impairment. The gastrointestinal side effects of white willow bark are noted to be less frequent as well as less intense than those found in aspirin users. Anticoagulant effects occur infrequently and to a lesser intensity and reduced length than NSAIDs. Plausible reasoning for this is the mediated conversion of salicin into salicylic acid. White willow bark provides salicin to be converted into salicylic acid whereas aspirin subverts the body’s conversion by supplying salicylic acid directly. More research is required to prove this theory.

Due to the similarities between white willow bark and aspirin, primarily its content of salicylates, much of the same precautions should be taken when using it. You should not take white willow bark if you are sensitive to aspirin or have an aspirin allergy, have peptic ulcer disease or kidney disease, use blood thinners (including ginkgo, vitamin E, or garlic), have hyperuricemia, gout, or asthma, are under 18 years of age, or are pregnant or nursing. You should not take white willow bark within two weeks before or after having surgery.

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