Thursday, March 16, 2017

Natural remedies over the millennia

A promising trend I see on PubMed recently is a swelling of interest in and scientific research on natural compounds from herbs and foods that have been used by humans for thousands of years. There is relatively little profit motive for pharmaceutical companies to fund such research, so it has been neglected. There's certainly a need for new, patentable molecules designed to selectively inhibit certain processes in the body and to correct for genetic faults, but we have a lot of naturally occurring molecules to investigate, as well.

LDS people (Mormons) have scriptures that say

"And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man— Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

But which herbs are wholesome? And for what conditions? Despite attempts to keep track of herbs and their effects for the past 5000 years, if Chinese oral tradition is accurate, humanity still has a long way to go in figuring them out.

Only 5000 years did I say? It looks like the Neanderthals might have been using natural remedies to treat their physical ailments well over 40,000 years ago:

"One of the most surprising finds, however, was in a Neanderthal from El SidrĂ³n, who suffered from a dental abscess visible on the jawbone. The plaque showed that he also had an intestinal parasite that causes acute diarrhoea, so clearly he was quite sick. He was eating poplar, which contains the pain killer salicylic acid (the active ingredient of aspirin), and we could also detect a natural antibiotic mould (Penicillium) not seen in the other specimens.""Apparently, Neanderthals possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and seem to be self-medicating. The use of antibiotics would be very surprising, as this is more than 40,000 years before we developed penicillin. Certainly our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination."

Reading that makes me think we should routinely reevaluate all the traditional remedies and "old wives' tales" to see whether new research has found out something indicating whether and how there might be something to those old uses of plants and other natural substances. (While we're at it, we should also probably stop maligning Neanderthals as stupid nonhumans if they were using penicillin intentionally that long ago.) Giving barley water a fresh look helped me see how molybdenum can help with migraines and nausea. Who knows what other real natural remedies we modern humans are missing?

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