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White Willow Bark: Aspirin’s Natural Alternative

white willow bark

White willow bark naturally contains ‘salicin,’ which is the source of the medicinal compound used as the primary ingredient in some anti-inflammatories like Aspirin. Salicin, this compound which can be extracted from white willow bark, was actually what was used to initially formulate Aspirin hundreds of years ago – now made (and mass-produced) in the form of “acetylsalicylic acid” instead.

What Makes White Willow Bark Safer Than Aspirin or NSAIDs?

White willow bark is believed to be safer than Aspirin and NSAIDs because, in its whole form, it contains a variety of natural, active compounds that provide a much wider range of therapeutic action, and in a much smaller dosage. While Aspirin and the like are highly concentrated forms of one specific compound, white willow bark contains flavonoids and polyphenols which have known anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

While most white willow bark contains only a small amount of salicin naturally, studies indicate a comparable level of efficacy and relief when used as an anti-inflammatory in comparison to over-the-counter medication, despite the dosage is lower.

The side effects individuals may experience from taking Aspirin and Ibuprofen – such as digestive upset, stomach ulcers, and increased risk of internal bleeding are significantly less likely to occur with white willow bark. Research suggests white willow bark is less likely to damage the intestinal lining like Aspirin and less likely to cause internal bleeding.

Variety of Therapeutic Benefits

White willow bark is reported to have other beneficial anti-inflammatory properties also associated with OTC medications like NSAIDs, which include reducing menstrual cramps, joint pain, headaches, and muscle aches.  

Research also indicates that white willow’s antioxidant capacity can help boost glutathione, along with reducing oxidative stress – not just for cramps, muscle pain, headaches, or fever.

Many people use white willow bark to manage pain that is chronic – such as arthritis. White willow bark may be effective in reducing osteoarthritis pain, back pain, and joint pain.

White willow’s flavonoids, polyphenols, and other healthful compounds can help provide a systemic boost against pathogenic bacteria, and illnesses like the common cold.

Interactions and Word of Caution

An important note is that those with allergies to aspirin (sensitive to salicylates) should still not consume or use products containing white willow bark, as it can still cause a reaction.

Too much salicin can still cause health problems in some individuals, especially at high doses over a prolonged period of time. The same precaution exists with regards to increased risk of bleeding at higher doses when taken with other medication that thins the blood, or other salicylates. The risk of gastric ulcers is dramatically reduced compared to traditional OTC medications, but also still exists in larger doses of white willow.

Children and young teenagers should also avoid using white willow bark, the same as Aspirin – this is due to the risk (albeit small) of “Reye’s Syndrome” which can cause brain and liver damage in young children when they take salicylates during viral infections.