What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you here natural product? For many they think of some quack doctor pushing a leaf extract from some bush in Puerto Rico that will burn calories and enhance performance. Until recently I was among this group of skeptics. Here at the University of California, Santa Barbara we are educated individuals taught to read between the lines and disregard unreliable sources that try to compel us with anecdotal data. Additionally, well trained minds are urged to research topics in depth to find the few truths within the piles of interpretations and persuasions.
Fortunately, that drive we share to learn the facts over fiction brought to my attention that the stigma of natural products is undeserved. Natural products have their place within our society both as a dietary and medicinal interest. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an example of the long history of natural products providing diverse practices for balancing the various functions of the body. Also, the current emphasis on organic food is worth mentioning when regarding positive social feelings towards natural products. Finally, the science that we know and love that provides us with drug after marvelous drug, uses Mother Nature as a muse. In order to offer society a breadth of medicines and novel research, scientists around the world (and here in Santa Barbara) are devoted to learning the mechanisms of molecules found in nature and transforming them into potent, possibly life saving remedies.
First I would like to address the reliability of techniques found in Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM focuses on a dynamic view of the human body. Rather than focusing on a symptom as localized within an organ, TCM looks to address the body as a whole by regulating digestion, breathing, and temperature regulations. These principles are synonymous with western medicines view of homeostasis. Many individuals in medical and science related fields understand the role of water balance in digestion (diarrhea vs. constipation) and blood’s role as a distributor of heat and molecules that have a biological and pharmacological effect. Minerals such as arsenic sulfide were used to treat sore throats, swelling, itching and rashes. TCM successfully identified arsenic sulfide as an anti-inflammatory, although the relief may have been characterized as a return to balance. This compound wasn’t discovered by a lab and approved by the FDA, but thousands of years of medical practice make this remedy a compelling alternative.
Next, the focus on organic foods in the recent years begs one to ask why natural products are so frowned upon when many exclusively trust Mother Nature to provide dietary sustenance. The expression “we are what we eat” is not merely an expression. The cells within the body harvest energy and manufacture metabolic products with the fuel that one chooses to intake. Therefore, natural products should be seen as an opportunity to take advantage of the diverse compounds within meats and vegetables that can supply our bodies with unadulterated products.
Finally, I wish to stress the importance of natural products in the development of drugs. Good medications that people trust to improve the quality of life do not simply come from a random sequence of atoms developed in a lab by mad scientists. Research specialists study extensively natural product’s pharmacological and biological effect on the body. Atropine (from the plant Atropa belladonna) was discovered as a must have ingredient when treating poisonings and cardiac arrest. With today’s technology we can take harvest the active ingredients and make them more potent and more effective. This capacity for highly effective drugs is great for care in hospitals for patients who suffer from a great deal of illness. I do feel however, that natural products have their place in keeping individuals healthy as part of a scheduled maintenance so that visits to the hospital can be limited.
In closing, as wonderful as modern medicine is, we must look to ourselves to maintain healthy lifestyles that take advantage of less invasive products. Rather than taking pills to remedy a headache, perhaps get a full nights rest after having a TCM mixture of Chrysanthemum (a rather beautiful flower). Remember, a good diet, rest, exercise and a little tea may be all you need to make the aches and pains of the day melt off your shoulders.