Aspirin vs White Willow Bark: What’s The Difference?

3 comments by Stacy Facko

The debate surrounding the difference between synthetic compounds and their natural counterparts can take many lessons from the history of aspirin use. Since it’s isolation from the bark of Willo trees in the late 1800s, it has been used to treat pain and inflammation, and was recommended for many years for cardiovascular protection.

However, a review by the US Preventive Services Task Force says this blanket recommendation is now unadvised for most people taking it. The task force's new guidelines suggest that a daily low-dose aspirin can offer a modest benefit in preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD) for individuals aged 40 to 59 who are not at an increased risk of bleeding. However, it concludes that there is "no net benefit" for taking aspirin as a primary preventive measure for heart disease in those aged 60 and older.

Whether or not this new reccomendation is legitimate, it might be wise to look into the less risky form of this long-used compound. The benefits of aspirin for a range of conditions, even cancer, might be similar or even better in its natural sources: White WIllow. 

Key Benefits of White Willow Bark

White Willow bark was mentioned by Hippocrates as an ancient remedy for pain, and we know now that it offers a range of additional health benefits, primarily attributed to its active ingredients, salicin, polyphenolic glycosides, and flavonoids.


A suprisingly benefit found in many studies on both aspirin and willow, is that they have multiple anti-cancer benefits. In 2020, cancer biologists at the University of Kent discovered a new compound in Willow bark, miyabeacin, which they found to be effective against throat, breast, and ovarian cancer cell lines. This molecule contains two silicin groups, allowing for double the benefitial activity and targeting cancer cell lines that were drug resistant. Even stage 4 neuroblastoma was inhibited by this new compound extracted from White Willow bark.

Pain and Inflammation Relief

Salicin in White Willow bark converts to salicylic acid in the body, exerting anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects similar to Aspirin but more gentle. It is useful for chronic lower back pain, joint pain/osteoarthritis, and muscle soreness from physical training. Provides antioxidants that defend against oxidative stress and age-related symptoms such as cognitive and physical decline.

Immune System Support

Willow bark extract helps manage symptoms of the common cold, flu, and other illnesses by reducing fever and speeding up recovery. The reason for these effects are that the polyphenols and flavonoids in WWB enhance immune function and offer antiseptic properties.

Side Effects and Risks


Despite its demonstrated benefits, the most negative aspect of aspirin may be its tedency to create nutrient depletion. 

  • Nutrient Depletion: Linked to the depletion of important nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, folic acid, iron, potassium, sodium, and zinc. It can also impair melatonin production. A study on vitamin c suggested that the depletion results from competition for active transporters. Another study found that aspirin depleted B12 levels (Van Oijen, 2004).
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Regular use can damage the gastrointestinal lining, leading to ulcers, H. Pylori infection, Crohn's disease, and other gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Broader Health Concerns: Associated with increased risks of kidney failure, certain types of breast cancer, cataracts, macular degeneration, and blindness.

White Willow Bark

  • Lower Risk Profile: Generally considered safer for the gastrointestinal tract compared to Aspirin.
  • Mild Blood Thinning: At high doses, WWB can thin the blood, though it does not cause significant gastrointestinal issues nor nutrient depletion.

Which is Better?

Hands-down, White WIllow bark and its extracts are safer and likely have a broader range of action than aspirin. Willow bark can be effective for chronic pain and inflammation with fewer side effects, making it a better option for long-term use. It does not cause stomach bleeding like aspirin and other NSAIDs. The reason may be due to the different effects that willow bark has on the COX-1 and COX-2 mRNA expressions compared to aspirin  explaining the lack of gastrointestinal risks (Bonaterra, 2011). Willow bark extract has also been found in cancer studies to have anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects similar to aspirin.


Both Aspirin and White Willow Bark are legitimate options for managing pain, inflammation, and cardiovascular health, but their suitability varies based on individual needs and health conditions. Aspirin is highly effective for acute pain and cardiovascular protection (despite the FDA reversing its recommendation in favor of low dose aspirin for cardio protection), but carries significant risks, particularly with long-term use. In contrast, White Willow Bark offers a safer alternative for chronic pain management and general health support, though it may not be as potent in preventing cardiovascular events.

When looking for a White Willow extract supplement, look for companies that provide a standardized salicin level between 15-25%.




Bonaterra GA, Kelber O, Weiser D, Metz J, Kinscherf R. In vitro anti-proliferative effects of the willow bark extract STW 33-I. Arzneimittelforschung. 2010;60(6):330-
US Preventive Services Task Force; Davidson KW, Barry MJ, Mangione CM, Cabana M, Chelmow D, Coker TR, Davis EM, Donahue KE, Jaén CR, Krist AH, Kubik M, Li L, Ogedegbe G, Pbert L, Ruiz JM, Stevermer J, Tseng CW, Wong JB. Aspirin Use to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease: US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. JAMA. 2022 Apr 26;327(16):1577-1584
Van Oijen MG, Laheij RJ, Peters WH, Jansen JB, Verheugt FW; BACH study. Association of aspirin use with vitamin B12 deficiency (results of the BACH study). Am J Cardiol. 2004 Oct 1;94(7):975-7.


  • Nelson (Dr. Clark Store)

    We currently do not have White Willow bark, but are looking into an extract to offer in the future.

    Thanks S, for sharing that article by Shane Ellison: he has a great book with a lot of relevant information.

  • S

    From my other favorite biological chemist/supplement maker:

  • Penny

    Excellent article on White Willow Bark.
    Is it available at the Dr. Clarks store?

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