Aspirin has been around in pill form for more than a century and is perhaps the most commonly used medication in the world. We’ve been using its active anti-inflammatory ingredient, salicylic acid, for thousands of years, though, in its natural form (as an extract of willow tree bark) to ease pain and fever. One reason it remains so popular despite the existence of even better anti-inflammatory painkillers today is that it’s used on a daily basis by millions of people as a blood thinner to reduce the risk of a heart attack.

The benefits of taking a daily aspirin must be weighed against the risk of internal bleeding complications. Taking an aspirin a day is generally not recommended for those without a known history of heart disease or stroke, particularly among older adults, as the risk of bleeding complications increases sharply in those 70 and older. How can we get the anti-inflammatory effects without the bleeding risk?

Aspirin is actually two drugs in one. It’s technically acetylsalicylic acid. Within minutes of swallowing aspirin, enzymes in our gut split it apart into an acetyl group and salicylic acid. The acetyl group is what inactivates our platelets and thins our blood. If we could consume salicylic acid directly, we could combat inflammation without the risk of bleeding. That’s exactly what we can do with diet.

The willow tree isn’t the only plant that contains salicylic acid precursors. They are widely found throughout the plant kingdom in many fruits and vegetables. In fact, the blood levels of people eating plant-based diets actually overlap with some of those taking low-dose aspirin, but they can end up with a significantly lower risk of ulcers due to gut-protective nutrients prepackaged in plants along with the salicylic acid.

Whole, organic, unpeeled plants have higher concentrations of these aspirin phytonutrients. Standouts include beets, green peas, avocados, dates, nuts, cocoa, lentils, and buckwheat, but herbs and spices contain the highest concentrations. Dried basil, chili powder, coriander, dried oregano, paprika, and turmeric are rich in the compound, but cumin has the most per serving. A single teaspoon of ground cumin may have more salicylic acid than a baby aspirin.

For substantiation of any statements of fact from the peer-reviewed medical literature, please see the associated videos below.

Image Credit: Pxhere. This image has been modified.

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