The other day I was reviewing movies that we own and ran across a title I haven’t seen in a while, “Medicine Man.” Medicine Man is one of my favorite Sean Connery movies. If you don’t remember it is about a scientist working on a project in the Amazon jungle. There he finds a cure for cancer which he attributes to a rare flower high in the canopy overhead. Later he finds his assumption isn’t the true source of the cure. . . I won’t spoil the movie by telling you more.
As I thought about this I start to wonder how much truth there was in this story. In researching this I discovered a report by Prof. (Dr.) Ciddi Veeresham, “Natural products derived from plants as a source of drugs.”
To my surprise Prof. Veeresham stated “Up to 50% of the approved drugs during the last 30 years are either directly or indirectly from natural products and in the area of cancer, over the time frame from around the 1940s to date, of the 175 small molecules 85 actually being either natural products or directly derived there from.”
Really, 50% of the drugs approved in the past 30 years are derived from nature? Wow!
Here is a smattering of medications I found that are derived from plant sources. Some are obvious others were a surprise.
Aspirin - willow bark - salicylic acid
Tamaflu - Star Anise - shikimic acid, one of the principle active ingredients in Tamiflu. In fact, without star anise, there is no Tamiflu.
Camptothecin (CPT) - chemotherapy drug - isolated from the stem bark of a tree native to sourthern China and Tibet, Camptotheca (Happy Tree or Tree of Life)
There are two chemotherapy drugs that were originally developed from Yew trees that are now produced synthetically,
docetaxel (Taxotere), derived from the needles of the European yew tree.
paclitaxel (Taxol) from the bark of the Pacific yew tree.
Artemisinin - multidrug resistant malaria - from traditional Chinese plant Artemisia annua
Silymarin - liver diseases - extracted from the seeds of Silybum marianum
Morphine - from Poppies - The first commercial pure natural product introduced for therapeutic use in 1826. This led to the isolation of other drugs - cocaine, codeine, digitoxin, quinine and pilocarpine, of which some are still in use
Prof. Veeresham went on to say in his report “Nature, the master craftsman of molecules created almost an inexhaustible array of molecular entities. It stands as an infinite resource for drug development . . . Even at the dawn of 21st century, 11% of the 252 drugs considered as basic and essential by the WHO were exclusively of flowering plant origin.”
“Even though popularity of the synthetic products increased due to its production cost, time effectiveness, easy quality control, stringent regulation and quick effects, but their safety and efficacy was always remained questionable, resulting in the dependence on the natural products by more than 80% of the total population in the developing world, because of its time tested safety and efficacy.”
My point in blogging this is not to push Herbal or Homeopathic medicine. Far from it. I personally am not a proponent of that practice, at least not by the layman. I have personally had a bad experience with lay people who convinced me to try an Herbal remedy, a poultice, for a Brown Recluse spider bite that resulted in an extreme and dangerous swelling in the area of the bite. In addition I have personally known individuals who have been poisoned and hospitalized as a result of these methodologies. However, I do not fault those who are proponents.
Rather my point in relating this information is that there is so much we don’t know about the natural world around us. We don’t even know everything that our food does for us. The more I read and study about our natural world the more I am amazed by our creator. It is clear to me that everything we need to survive was supplied and is already available to us. So why is it then that so called 1st world countries are actually experiencing so many health problems like, much higher obesity rates than previous generations, more Cancer, Heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, etc.? All because we have moved away from real food toward industrialized processed foods. What we eat matters. Unfortunately, we have given over our food production to corporate farms that may raise only 1 type of corn or 1 maybe 2 types of wheat, etc. We are rapidly loosing plant diversity and I have to question, What have we lost in regard to our health in the process?
In my opinion we need to learn and live in harmony with our natural world. A part of that is to eat a wide variety of real food. We need to eat food derived as close to the source as possible while it is at its nutritional peak. We should also realize that food grown using sustainable agriculture methods would be the best choice since these foods provide a more complex mix of nutrients for the plant to absorb. This is due to the fact that compost and other complex products are used as fertilizers whereas industrial fertilizers in conventional farming only provide a limited few nutrients found to produce the most commercially viable produce. Perhaps this is why a Cambridge study found that the antioxidant levels of organic foods were 20%-40% higher than those found in conventionally grown foods. If, however, cost is a determining factor, as is often the case, variety in our food is the key to nutrition. It is this that will expose us to the most natural nutrients possible. It is this that will provide us with the opportunity for new and delicious opportunities to explore our culinary world.
Who knows along the way we may, probably will, become more healthy.