Friday, January 30, 2009

Jungle Wisdom

This is an excerpt from The Green Pharmacy by James A. Duke, Ph.D. You can get it from Amazon, of course. My home copy is a bit different--the subtitle on mine is The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from The World's Foremost Authority on Healing Herbs. Duke is an ethnobotonist, a guy who studies how healing foods and herbs are used in the world's cultures. It's a terrific book, ranks up there with Heinerman's Encyclopedia of Healing Herbs and Spices (reviewed here) as an excellent resource for households wanting to use natural medicines.

I thought you all might be interested in what Duke has to say about folk remedies, herbs, and pharmaceutical synthetic medicines.

Jungle Wisdom

At the beginning of this chapter, I mentioned a pepper plant that the Choco Indians use to numb the pain of toothache.

I encountered this plant again years later, on my first ecotour to Iquitos, Peru. My Indian guide pointed to the plant and reiterated that it relieves toothache. He pulled it up by the root, scraped off the dirt, and invited me to bite into it. As before, it immediately anesthetized my mouth.

Fruits and roots of some species of pepper plants are known to contain anesthetic compounds. Even black pepper contains some.

People who have lived for thousands of years in the world's jungles have toothache remedies that really work. And that's the main reason I wrote this book--to show that traditional medicine has legitimate scientific value.

Scientific critics counter that "old folk tales" are no match for Western-style scientific experimentation. But the basis of science is careful observation, and that's what traditional peoples have been doing since time immemorial--observing and experimenting with the world around them.

In general, traditional people have managed to select the good medicines and have rejected the bad, leading to what we today call folk medicine. Most of these folk medicines have thousands of years of experimental selection behind them, and few are associated with adverse reactions.

That's something that you really can't say about our modern pharmaceuticals, only a few of which have been on this earth for more than a hundred years. All too often, synthetic drugs turn out to be hazardous. This is evidenced by the number of pharmaceuticals that the Food and Drug Administration orders withdrawn because of adverse reactions.

End of excerpt. I love the understatement of that last sentence--withdrawn because of adverse reactions. Such as 27,785 deaths from Vioxx before the FDA got around to taking it off the market. OK, so that is nearly 30,000 deaths in about 20 million people who had taken it. Seems small when you look at it like that. But as the last paragraph of the linked article says:

"Because heart attacks and strokes occur in the general population, one cannot say that if someone had an event while taking Vioxx, that Vioxx caused it," a Merck spokesman said.

Of course, Vioxx was a $2.5 billion a year drug for Merck, which, as the article also says, fought for years to keep this bad news of heart attacks from the public. Wonder how they did that? By influencing the FDA perhaps?

If you're interested in seeing the mischief and wrong-doing of the pharmaceutical industry, you should check out this blog, by Dr. Doug Bremer, a physican and professor at Emory University. His blog is called Before You Take That Pill and it is enlightening and entertaining reading.


Anonymous said...

This looks really interesting. When we were poor, my husband used to volunteer as a lab rat for medical studies. His experiences there made whatever shred of faith we had in Western medicine's ability to handle disease totally vanish. Did you know they have a range of acceptable results, and if your bloodwork is out of range they test you over and over again until they get their predetermined outcome? Even if it's hours, days, or weeks after when the supposed result was supposed to be recorded! Really, leaving safety tests up to the drug companies is just bad for our health.

Patricia said...

Couldn't agree more, foodrenegade. Thank you for that informative comment!