Barking Up the Right Tree.
People who suffer from lower back pain may find relief with a natural remedy: willow bark extract. Already widely used in Europe for lower back pain, the extract was studied by Israeli and German researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. They confirmed that willow bark extract is effective for treating lower back pain.
The findings, published in The American Journal of Medicine (July 2000), are startling: 39 percent of the patients who took a high dose of extract became pain free, while another 21 percent who took a lower dose also became pain free. The active ingredient in the willow bark extract is salicin, a forerunner of aspirin, but other ingredients in the extract also may play a role in relieving lower back pain.
"What we've shown is that the willow bark extract is effective and safe compared to a placebo," explains Dr. Elon Eisenberg, the Technion researcher who co-authored the study. "Some people may be able to tolerate NSAIDs, but these are expensive, not readily available and can cause side effects." NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories often prescribed for lower back pain, can cause bleeding and perforation of the gastro-intestinal tract. The study also notes that 76,000 people annually in the U.S. are hospitalized from the effects of these drugs.
"The low doses of salicin [the natural, aspirin-like ingredient in willow bark extract] are safe for the gastro-intestinal tract. That's the advantage of this extract," Eisenberg said. "The equivalent dose of salicin given in the form of aspirin has no pain-killing properties whatsoever." He added that people who are allergic to aspirin, are pregnant or are lactating shouldn't take the extract without consulting a doctor.