Drug Resistance, Got a drug-resistant infection? Try a herb instead!
Drug resistance is one of the greatest threats to human civilization. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, pneumonia and all sorts of parasites are gaining resistance to last-resort drugs. Increasing travel and trade mean drug-resistance is a worldwide catastrophe waiting to happen.
Could we, though, have snookered ourselves with a reliance on synthetic drugs to treat disease? The story of malaria teaches a lesson that is largely ignored.
For hundreds of years quinine, a natural compound derived from the bark of a South American tree, successfully treated cases of malaria worldwide.
Then in the twentieth century the pharmaceutical industry got involved. Synthetic derivatives of quinine were invented. Hailed for their clinical purity and potency, these wonder drugs claimed to provide a more reliable treatment of malaria rather than relying on the vagaries of nature.
The bubble didn’t take long to burst. Within 10 years resistance to synthetic quinine drugs was noted. Within 40 years it was widespread.
Next came artemisinin. Science isolated this compound from sweet wormwood, a plant that Chinese herbalists had been using for over 2,000 years to treat malaria. It is highly active on the most difficult cases of malaria.
Not content to simply use the herb though, drug companies quickly developed a synthetic form of artemisinin. Once again they had improved on nature, or so they thought.
But by 2011 the WHO was already issuing alarming warnings about resistance by malaria to the “new artemisinin compounds”.
Parasites were sidestepping drugs once again.
Has anyone asked these questions, though:
How did these herbs successfully treat malaria for thousands of years before science “discovered” them?
Why didn’t the parasites develop resistance to the herbs throughout all of this time?
Is it just coincidence that once we start synthesizing these natural compounds into drugs that parasites start developing resistance to them?
I discussed this issue with an audience during a lecture recently. One attendee raised her hand and asked why this was so – why parasites don’t develop resistance to herbs but they do to drugs.
Now science doesn’t even court this question, but experienced herbalists know what’s going on.
Each season as plants grow the natural chemicals in the herbs are slightly different from previous crops. Yes, herbs are constantly changing, side-stepping the defences of parasites and not allowing them to adapt resistance.
This natural process horrifies Western science. If a compound is even slightly different from what is documented, then a scientific approach dictates that it is unacceptable. Western medicine, by synthesizing drugs out of plant chemicals to ensure they are “pure, potent and consistent” actually provides the parasites an ideal opportunity to develop resistance.
And so plants are smarter than medical science. They do exactly what is necessary to protect us from infection. These are the safeguards built into herbs to stop parasites getting the upper hand.
Next time you contract an infection keep that in mind!