HERBAL REMEDIES FROM ELEPHANTS TO MODERN MAN
†††††††††† Holly Dublin, the Jane Goodall for Elephants, spent decades observing what elephants do every day as well as some rare activities.† One day in 1980, a very pregnant elephant took off at a fast pace with two of her daughters.† Holly had known the elephant daughters since their births.† They traveled far out of their home territory and stopped at a small, unusual tree.† The mother ate most of the leaves of the tree and headed home.† The next day she gave birth.† Holly had saved a few of the remaining leaves of the tree for identification.† When she asked the ladies of a nearby village, they laughed and laughed.† It turned out that the local women used this herb to induce labor.† Sick chimpanzees have been observed to eat the leaves and bitter pith of some plants which they do not normally eat.† Analyses of these plants show that about half of them contain alkaloids, drug-like substances, some of which are active against intestinal parasitic worms.† One of these leaves, which the chimpanzees swallow whole, has velcro-like hairs which entangle a species of small intestinal worm and cause it to be expelled in large numbers, something that doesnít otherwise happen.
††††††††††† About 10% of plants expend up to 50% or so of their total energy budget creating alkaloids like nicotine, caffeine, morphine, strychnine, cocaine, curare (of Amazonian poison darts) probably in most if not all instances to limit insect or animal predation.† Consistent with this is our family experience of using nicotine from recycled cigar butts to get rid of tomato horn worms.† Careful testing of medicinal herbs used by humans throughout the world has revealed many such active substances.† Examples include quinine for malaria, atropine (an antispasmodic), colchicine for gout and digitalis, for over 400 years very nearly indispensable in cardiology.† Those in long usage by the medical profession have been purified, meaning the active substances has been separated from everything else in the raw product so that it can be weighed out in exact doses.† This helps to avoid toxic doses and ineffective doses.
††††††††††† When I was a student in the 1940s, digitalis was available only in crude forms, either powdered leaves made into pills or liquid extracts of leaves. †These were dispensed as so many ďcat unitsĒ.† A cat unit was the dose which killed 50% of the cats to whom it was administered, obviously a rough estimate but the best available.† During my school years, digitalis was purified by the Eli Lilly Company culminating many unsuccessful attempts in the preceding centuries.† Digitalis had proved to be very fragile during such processing.† So during my professional lifetime, digitalis has become much safer to use.† Toxicity, which had been common, is now rare.† In my opinion, only about half of the herbal remedies now promoted as alternatives to drugs will be found to have active ingredients.† Donít be too surprised.† In double blind experiments, about 30% of people receiving dummy pills think they have benefitted.† Ultimately, the most useful herbs will evolve as has digitalis, purified so they can be prepared in exact doses.
††††††††††† St. Johnís wort is an example of an effective herbal remedy.† Itís action in treating mental depression compares favorably with Prozac and the like.† The reason for not using it is not so much its toxicity, but fear of inconsistent dosage from refill to refill.† When depressed patients relapse, it may be fatal and treatment is frequently needed for years.† Remember the potency of crude preparations varies greatly from batch to batch.† The bottom line: take your herbals as you would home remedies for minor, temporary problems.† Tell your physician, if you are not asked, what you are taking including those that do not require a doctorís prescription.† Even when effective like St. Johnís wort, and this is known to occur with St. Johnís wort, drugs can interact with other drugs either enhancing their destruction or toxicity.† Unfortunately, most of these interactions are almost surely unknown.† There are just too many combinations of herbs and drugs taken two or more at a time to have tested more than a handful of them together.† It is noteworthy that several really useful prescription drugs have been removed from the market solely because of dangerous effects in likely combinations.† For more details of what is known about individual alternative remedies, their interactions and the conditions for which they might be used try <www.nccam.nih.gov> and click on ďhealth informationĒ.
††††††††††† Getting back to zoopharmacognosy, what animals know about herbal remedies:† I can think of two recreational drugs discovered by animals for animals, catnip, which most of us know about, and loco weed, which horses quickly learn to seek for its high.
John A. Frantz, M.D
Chairperson - Board of Health, Monroe City Council
A Change in Scientific Dogma
†††††† During my formal education it was firmly believed that after brain development in childhood no new neurons would ever be formed later in life. Functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET scanning (positron emission tomography) show in real time which parts of the brain are activated in accomplishing specific types of mental tasks.† The hippocampus, a nucleus of cells at the base of the brain, is the most active region when the brain is processing geographic memories.† You might say that we store maps of our personal worlds in our hippocampi.
†††††† An imaginative researcher checked the brains of New York City cab drivers compared with cabbies from complex eastern cities such as Boston and Providence which grew like topsy from wandering colonial cow paths.† NYC is laid out on a grid of streets and avenues.† An immigrant cab driver can learn this map almost instantly.† The hippocampus of NYC cab drivers was no larger than that of non-cab drivers, whereas those of cabbies from the complex, even though† smaller cities, were the largest that had been examined at that time.† This led to proof that at least in the hippocampus, adult brains actually grew new cells when needed.† I like the open mindedness of science (open minded does not mean holes in the head).
Always lock the door when you clean your ears with Q tips.† Some younger person might see you doing it and think that is the thing to do.† Consider that you might be a role model.† Besides, someone might open the door and hit your elbow.