Welcome to the world of modern medicine and the culture of immediate results. Remember when you would fall as a kid and your dad or coach would say, "get up and rub some dirt on it!"? It's 2014. Isn't there a pill I can take for that? Got a problem? There's a drug for that. Have an ache or pain? Google it. Wait, actually don't do that. No matter the scenario there is a highly probable chance that you can locate a drug store on your smartphone and pick up an elixir to fix the situation. Living in America has afforded us the great fortune of over the counter medicines and prescriptions when we need them (normally speaking). Those of us with easy access to solid medical care probably take the miracle of modern medicine for granted. Those who have been in the position of chronic illness or sustained the experience of an emergency situation can easily vouch for the common grace that is modern medicine. At Mixer Direct, we are thankful to play a role in the pharmaceutical industry. We understand that there are a plethora of medicines in every shape and color for every need, but which ones have transformed the realm of medicine? Glad you asked. This is the first installment of a new blog series about drugs that have changed our world.
What is it and how does it work?
The natural form of aspirin is salicylic acid which is a bitter mixture that is most commonly found in the Willow and Myrtle plant. The aspirin we are all familiar with today is in the form of acetylsalicylic acid. Aspirin works by locally combatting inflammation, fever, and primarily pain. It is also around the world as a blood thinner, a pain reliever, fever reducer, arthritis treatment, and reducer of inflammation. Some studies have show that a regimen of aspirin can reduce risks of heart attack and stroke. Of course you will want to consult a health professional before adopting a practice such as this.
The roots of Aspirin's history is reported to be found as far back as 3000 B.C. by the ancient Egyptians. It is believed that the Egyptians keenly used willow tree bark and myrtle to treat the effects of fever and pain. Hippocrates of Cos was an ancient Greek Physician and philosopher left physical records behind of the treatments he used for pain relief that are dated from somewhere around 460 B.C. to 377 B.C. His records included a powder derived from willow leaves and bark. Historians also hold that myrtle leaves were utilized by both Greek and Roman physicians dating back to 30 A.D.
By the late 1820's, scientists came to the conclusion that the compound found in Willow was salicin. The problem was finding a way to make this compound an isolated, stable, and accessible elixir in an effective dosage. Oh and did we mention the the other road block? The taste was so unbearable and so hard on the stomach that it was almost guaranteed to induce vomiting? Talk about a great selling point! A few scientists were able to isolate and extract the compound. However, the first person to overcome these problematic tasks was French Chemist, Charles Frederic Gerhardt. In 1853, Gerhardt was able to neutralize the acid and in effect smoothing it with sodium and acetyl chloride. Despite this incredible discovery, Gerhardt apparently expressed zero desire to take it to market and flat out abandoned the work. Sounds peculiar right? We thought so too. This is where the development of aspirin takes a turn for the dramatic. In 1899, a German chemist by the name of Felix Hoffmann who was employed by a German company called Bayer, happened upon Gerhardt's abandoned work. In efforts to develop a remedy for his father's arthritis, Hoffmann made Gerhardt's formula which had stunning results. Hoffmann realized the potential of the formula and pitched the idea as a marketable product to Bayer. On February 27, 1900 the drug that became know as aspirin was patented under the Imperial Office of Berlin. Writer Mary Bellis explains how the name aspirin is derived from "the "A" in acetyl chloride, the "spir" in spiraea ulmaria (the plant they derived the salicylic acid from) and the 'in' was a then familiar name ending for medicines." Strangely enough the story does not end here. In 1914 World War I broke out. This effectively cutoff the supply of aspirin to the Allies despite large rewards being offered for duplicating the drug. After Germany lost the war in 1919, the Treaty of Versailles forced Bayer to relinquish the patents of aspirin and another drug by the name heroin (you may have heard of it). Aspirin originally hit the market in powder form and was not available in tablet form until 1915.
When one ponders modern medicine, it is hard to believe that aspirin as we know it was not in production 100 years ago. Many believe aspirin to be the most prosperous non-prescribed medicine of history. In 1950, the Guinness Book of World Records declared aspirin to be the world's most highly purchased drug. To this day, aspirin is believed to be a viable form of treatment for more than 50 disorders. It is believed that the world now consumes 40 billion tablets a year. The 100th birthday of Aspirin will be celebrated in February of 2015. Here's to another 100 years of aspirin helping reduce human misery.