The white willow tree is sometimes referred to as nature’s aspirin. That’s not just because of its use in the treatment of pain, fever, and inflammation. Rather, it has something to do with what it’s made from. The tree’s bark contains salicin, a compound that's structurally similar to aspirin.
In more recent decades, white willow bark extract has been widely used for weight loss. Such widespread usage must mean it works, right? Sadly, no. The world of health supplements is unfortunately plagued by miracle compounds that never do what they claim to. In the spectrum of weight loss efficacy, where does white willow bark lie? Walk with me through the current research.
What is White Willow Bark?
The white willow tree (or Salix alba) is native to Europe, North Africa and Central Asia. It stands out for its slender leaves, white-grayish bark, and often leaning frame. Its bark has often been used for medicinal purposes.
Salicin is the main compound in white willow bark. This, as well as the antioxidants the tree’s bark contains, are at the heart of white willow's reputation for relieving headaches, muscular pain, fever, and other common ailments. Salicin’s structure is similar to acetylsalicylic acid, more commonly referred to as aspirin. Salicin itself is converted to salicylic acid once in the body.
What does white willow bark do for weight loss though?
Science on White Willow Bark and Weight Loss
Despite its relatively long use in supplements, it is odd just how little research exists on white willow bark’s capacity for weight loss. And I mean both human studies or animal experiments. This alone makes for the argument in this plant extract’s favor, weak. What’s more, even where studies exist, they do not interrogate or prove its contribution to key drivers of weight loss such as fat reduction and appetite suppression.
take this study published in the Nutrients journal in 2019 involving 49 obese children aged six years or older. The subjects were put on a healthy, balanced diet for one year. Participants not only experienced a reduction in BMI and body fat but also an increase in serum levels of salicylic acid. Remember, white willow bark contains salicin which is converted to salicylic acid in the body.
The argument willow bark’s proponents could make here is that weight loss is linked to increased salicylic acid. However, we cannot definitively conclude the reverse is also true i.e. increasing levels of salicylic acid in the body leads to weight reduction.
Further, a study published in the Arthritis and Rheumatism journal in 1986 involving 20 obese and 20 healthy weight persons concluded there was not much difference in salicylic acid serum levels between the two groups.
Overall, more research is needed, especially large studies involving human subjects, to establish a link between white willow bark extract and weight loss. For now, it would be safe to say there isn’t much proof that one exists.
As white willow bark has not been extensively studied for weight loss, there is no established standard dosage for this specific purpose. Some studies not related to weight loss have used doses of up to 1,200 mg per day. So we can conservatively presume this to be an upper band for safety.
White willow bark’s active compound, salicin, is similar to aspirin. Aspirin is not known for weight loss so it does make sense that white willow bark’s weight loss capability does not seem to be supported by existing research. Perhaps as more studies are done, we may unearth more insights into its potential benefits. But for now, there is no conclusive evidence to support its effectiveness in aiding weight loss.