Salicylates are derivatives of salicylic acid that occur naturally in plants and serve as a natural immune hormone and preservative , protecting the plants against diseases , insects , fungi , and harmful bacteria . [ citation needed ] Salicylates can also be found in many medications , perfumes and preservatives. [ citation needed ] Both natural and synthetic salicylates can cause health problems in anyone when consumed in large doses, [ citation needed ] but for those who exhibit salicylate sensitivity (also known as salicylate intolerance ), even small doses of salicylate can cause adverse reactions.
The therapy of rheumatism began thousands of years ago with the use of decoctions or extracts of herbs or plants such as willow bark or leaves, most of which turned out to contain salicylates. Following the advent of synthetic salicylate, Felix Hoffman, working at the Bayer company in Germany, made the acetylated form of salicylic acid in 1897. This drug was named "Aspirin" and became the most widely used medicine of all time. In 1971, Vane discovered the mechanism by which aspirin exerts its anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic actions. He proved that aspirin and other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) inhibit the activity of the enzyme now called cyclooxygenase (COX) which leads to the formation of prostaglandins (PGs) that cause inflammation, swelling, pain and fever. However, by inhibiting this key enzyme in PG synthesis, the aspirin-like drugs also prevented the production of physiologically important PGs which protect the stomach mucosa from damage by hydrochloric acid, maintain kidney function and aggregate platelets when required. This conclusion provided a unifying explanation for the therapeutic actions and shared side effects of the aspirin-like drugs. Twenty years later, with the discovery of a second COX gene, it became clear that there are two isoforms of the COX enzyme. The constitutive isoform, COX-1, supports the beneficial homeostatic functions, whereas the inducible isoform, COX-2, becomes upregulated by inflammatory mediators and its products cause many of the symptoms of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.