Snake oil salesmen once slithered through the West selling cure-all medicines that were "good for what ails ya." They were con artists, of course. But if they'd been selling aspirin, they might have saved their reputations.

Every few months, it seems, researchers find a new use and a new benefit from aspirin tablets. Not long ago it was the way aspirin can keep people alive during a heart attack. This week we learn that aspirin can help women who have trouble getting pregnant or carrying babies to term.

And these are not fly-by-night studies. The recent figures come from research at the University of Utah where Dr. Robert M. Silver has dedicated his career to maternal-fetal medicine. According to Silver, as many as a third of all pregnancies are lost. Decreased blood flow is the cause of some of those. And the blood-thinning properties in aspirin can make a difference.

In short, aspirin is a triumph of practical science. (The name, by the way, comes from combining the name of an acid, the name of a plant and the ending "in," which made it sound medicinal.)

One of the joys of aspirin, of course, is it is such a democratic medicine. It is inexpensive, available without prescription, easy to make and doesn't require billions of dollars in research grants to tweak. The Greeks in 400 B.C. used aspirin-like substances derived from willow bark as "fever fighters." Modern aspirin, however, was brought about by many hands, with Friedrich Bayer playing a pivotal role in 1897.

In the early 1900s, aspirin was being used to deal with rheumatism, lumbago, neuralgia, stroke, pain, arthritis and other inflammation. Current studies are looking for ways to put aspirin to work in the treatment of Alzheimer's and cancer. In 1996, twice as many people in a poll selected aspirin over personal computers as "the invention they couldn't live without."

As for the recent University of Utah discoveries, studies there are ongoing. Currently the university is looking for women between the ages of 18 and 40 who are interested in being part of the research. All 17 Wasatch Front hospitals are on board, along with the University of Buffalo in New York. For details call 866-912-1967.