“Herbal Aspirin” Effective for Low Back Pain
An extract of willow tree bark is as effective as a common prescription medication for the treatment of low back pain, according to a new study published in Rheumatology (2001;40:1388–93).
In this study, 228 individuals with low back pain were randomly assigned to daily treatment with four capsules of a standardized extract of willow bark (containing 240 mg of salicin per day) or one 12.5-mg tablet of the anti-inflammatory drug rofecoxib (Vioxx® ) for four weeks. In all measures of pain relief, willow bark treatment was found to be as effective as rofecoxib.
Willow bark (Salix alba) has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory agent. In the late nineteenth century, aspirin was developed based on the chemical structure of the willow bark constituent salicin.
Drugs such as rofecoxib are part of a new class of anti-inflammatory agents known as COX-2 inhibitors. These drugs are considered to be an improvement over older anti-inflammatory medications because they are less likely to cause gastrointestinal side effects. Regardless, more than twice as many participants in the rofecoxib group as in the willow bark group had to leave the study because of severe gastrointestinal complaints (7.9% vs. 3.5%).
The amount of rofecoxib used in the study is the smallest available. Four capsules of willow bark extract per day were still 40% less expensive than the single daily capsule of rofecoxib.
Like aspirin, willow bark extracts are thought to have the potential to cause gastrointestinal ulceration when used over a long period of time. Because of this, people taking willow bark for more than a month should be supervised by a physician.
Despite this precaution, willow bark is generally well tolerated. Previous European clinical trials have shown the incidence of side effects to be approximately 4%, the most common being allergic reactions.
Matt Brignall, ND is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Bastyr University. He works at the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center, where he specializes in complementary medicine approaches to cancer. He has been published in several journals, including Alternative Medicine Review, Coping With Cancer, and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Brignall also teaches clinical nutrition at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. He is a regular contributor to Healthnotes, Healthnotes Newswire, and the Healthnotes Quick!Reference series.
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