[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
Aspirin is a popular painkiller, and chances are you have some in your medicine chest right now. You might even have some in your flesh-and-blood, put-a-shirt-on-it chest. Because a new study suggests that humans can make their own salicylic acid, which forms the bulk of aspirin’s active ingredient.
Scientists at Scotland’s National Health Service previously observed that people can have salicylic acid in their blood even if they haven’t recently swallowed an aspirin. Vegetarians have really high concentrations, which makes sense, given that plants make salicylic acid, so fruits and veggies are full of it. But their recent study suggests that not all of the chemical comes from the diet, because humans can take a precursor molecule and turn it into salicylic acid—results published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
The researchers say that people might make salicylic acid to fight inflammation or disease…which would also make sense…because plants make the stuff to fight off infections. In fact, a recent study published online in the journal Nature shows how calcium released at the site of an infection tells plants to ramp up production of the protective compound. Just Mother Nature’s way of saying, “Make two aspirin and call me when you flower.”