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Aspirin is the trade name for acetylsalicylic acid, whose pain-relieving powers have been recognised by herbalists for thousands of years: a related compound is found in willow bark and certain shrubs. Even today, however, scientists have yet to fathom the details of how it works. During the 1970s, the British pharmacologist John Vane showed that aspirin interferes with the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes, compounds released by cells when they’re damaged and which stimulate surrounding nerves to create the sensation of pain. This discovery won Vane the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1982, but it’s now recognised that it is just part of the story. Aspirin is also believed to reduce the effects of inflammation, which is also linked to pain generation.