Willow bark has been used for thousands of years in China and Europe as a remedy for fevers, pain and inflammation. It contains salicin, the phytotherapeutic precursor of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).
Willow bark extracts exert anti-inflammatory (1), antiplatelet (2) and antiproliferative (3) effects in vitro. Clinical studies demonstrate their efficacy in the management of back pain (4), osteoarthritis (5), gonarthrosis and coxarthrosis (6). A systematic review suggests it may also be effective in treating low back pain (7).
Topical application of salicin may help reduce aging of the skin (9).
Conclusions of a meta analysis support use of aspirin as a preventative in patients at increased risk of occlusive vascular events, including those with an acute myocardial infarction or ischemic stroke, angina, previous myocardial infarction, stroke, peripheral arterial disease or atrial fibrillation (8).
In 1985, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved aspirin for the treatment and secondary prevention of acute myocardial infarction.
Recent data from epidemiologic and observational studies suggest that aspirin has clinically relevant anticancer effects (10) (11). However, it is not known if willow bark has the same effects.
Because willow bark supplements can have additive effects with non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, they should not be given concurrently. Children should not be given willow bark because of the potential for developing Reye syndrome, a serious condition associated with the use of aspirin.