Tuesday, January 20, 2009


It is well known that the Bayer Pharmaceuticals made enormous fortune selling Aspirin for decades, being the prime mover in the market. The role of Aspirin, also known as acetyl salicylic acid or 2-(2-acetyloxyphenyl) carboxylic acid in preventing heart attacks, reducing inflammation and relieving pain is well documented. No one will believe that the beneficial effect of chewing the bark of Willow tree in easing aches and pains, discovered in 5th century BC is the basis for the modern wonder drug, Aspirin. More recent discovery, in early 19th century AD that the active ingredient responsible for the effect was Salicylic and subsequent efforts to improve upon the efficiency of Salicylic acid resulted in the successful synthesis of Acetyl salicylic acid or Aspirin later. Acute digestive problem resulting from consumption of Salicylic acid as a pain reliever was the motivating factor to look for less problematic derivatives from this chemical.

The two basic functions of Aspirin are: (1) inhibition of Cyclooxiginase-2 enzyme ( Cox-2) at the cellular level which is responsible for production of Prostoglandins, the pain messenger to the brain and production of this messenger is reduced by Aspirin when pain is caused due to injury and consequent inflammation due to fluid excretion (2) reduced synthesis of prostaglandins and thromboxane involved in blood clotting on consumption of aspirin, also prevents aggregation of platelets responsible for arterial blocks. These twin advantages make regular consumption of Aspiring a daily routine for millions of people across the world.

Salicylic acid is present in varying amounts in many natural foods such as radish, green pepper, tomato, broccoli, cucumber, squash, raisins, apricots, cantaloupe, black berries, blue berries, guava, dates, orange, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, turmeric, mustard, fenugreek, almonds, peanuts, coconuts and a few others. Salicylic acid is effective only in relieving pain and does not have the properties to prevent platelet aggregation like Aspirin. It may be too presumptuous to assume that consumption of plenty of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of Cardio vascular disease or colorectal cancer solely because of Salicylic acid though its ability of reducing inflammation of the cells in general can be a contributing factor.

Human body is also capable of converting benzoic acid to salicylic acid and some preserved foods provide the source for benzoic acid. Sodium benzoate is a safe preservative approved for use in many low pH foods in almost all countries at 0.1% level. How ever a few countries like Korea does not allow benzoates in foods and the precise reason is not known. There are conflicting views regarding the role of benzoates in damaging a vital part of DNA in the chromosomes and evolution of Benzene, a potential carcinogen when Ascorbic acid is present in the same product. EU countries are considering phasing out benzoates eventually due to such controversies. Cranberries, prunes, cinnamon, apples and a few other foods contain benzoates in small concentrations.

The million dollar question is whether eating large quantities of fruits and vegetables can be a substitute to taking low doses of Aspirin every day. Obviously no, because of the ineffectiveness of naturally occurring salicylic acid to prevent blood clotting in arteries and consequent blocks leading to myocardial infarction (MI). One may have to live with the known side effects of taking Aspirin, viz slow bleeding in GI tract and consequent lowering of hemoglobin content in the blood, if preemptive action is needed against MI, especially amongst vulnerable population. The fact still remains that many other benefits that can accrue on liberal intake of fruits and vegetables more than justify their consumption daily.



Anonymous said...

Dr. Potty,
Do you know if canning or otherwise preserving a food that has salicylic acid changes the actual amount of salicylic acid in the fruit. As compared to fresh, of course. If preservation does change the amount, is it higher or lower?

Thank you,

jill brock said...

Thanks this was really informative. I did not realise that the foods that contain salicylic acid do not have the same vascular protection as aspirin.