Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Herbal Health Assists

"I came to NYC in 2005 and expected immigrants from the Caribbean to use very few plants for health care because most of the medicinal plants they know from their home countries don't grow here."
"A lot of medical research still needs to be done."
"You go to a Latino grocery store and you overhear someone on the checkout line talking about, say, cucumber being good for hypertension."
"People are sometimes afraid to talk to doctors about their use of plants."
"[Her goal is to promote] culturally effective and sensitive health care [for those underserved by mainstream medicine]."
Dr. Ina Vandebroek, ethnobotanist, assistant curator, economic botany, Botanical Garden of New York

"People know a lot more about natural healing today than when I started the business 20 years ago. Our sales of plant products have tripled."
Eliseo Trinidad, owner, La 21 Division, Bronx, New York City
Eliseo Trinidad, left, the owner of La 21 Division Botanica in the Bronx, with a customer. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

"I want to make sure that they [patients using herbals] are safe, and don't interact with the drug that I am prescribing."
"If you believe that something [like herbal remedies] will work, it may actually work in some cases." [The placebo effect]

Dr. Roger Chirurgi, program director, emergency medicine residency, New York Medical College, Metropolitan Hospital Center, Manhattan
According to the World Health Organization, in the developing world people are hugely reliant on medicinal plants which they prescribe for themselves to maintain their health. Some 80 percent of these third-world residents depend on the usefulness of herbal remedies whose properties have been identified, valued and handed down as health measures within communities from generation to generation.

And Dr. Vandebroek points out that until the 1800s, practising physicians were also skilled botanists with knowledge of local plant interactions and their patients' health practices. A 2012 study published by the National Institutes of Health pointed out that almost half of all new drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies and approved for use within the past 30 years were developed mostly from plants.

Traditions and knowledge related to the medicinal properties of plants are generally a focus of rural residents. When people move to urban centres their knowledge of these plant properties relating to health maintenance and care often fades. But Dr. Vandebroek is hugely aware that people from Mexico and Central America, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Jamaica, gravitating to the U.S., have brought their knowledge of herbs and foods as medicines with them.

As a result, herbal remedies are available and their use and sale is thriving in the New York City area. Dr. Vandebroek is involved in compiling a study of folk remedies and the over one hundred emporiums offering products to enhance the body, mind and soul of people whose heritage and traditions included the use of plants as medicinals. She aspires to compile a guide outlining the plants' uses.

Among the oils sold at La 21 Division Botanica in the Bronx. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times 

In  Mr. Trinidad's store there are dried herbs from Peru, including horsetail for bladder problems, and palo de Brazil for cleansing the kidney, as well as anamu for fevers and arthritis treatment. The plant Costus igneus, a close botanical cousin to ginger which has its own health attributes, is familiarly called "insulina", used by people with diabetes to lower blood glucose levels. A study with rodents claimed it works, while another study counter-claimed.

The Botanical Garden offers to teach doctors about herbal medicinals to aid them in understanding their patients' beliefs, funded by a $130,000 grant from the Cigna Foundation. Thus far, 740 medical students and physicians have taken the opportunity to study medicinal plants valued by the Hispanic community.

The use of plants as medicinals has quite a tradition, one that can be traced back at the least, to the ancient Egyptians, themselves anything but primitive. The most common of all modern medicinals produced by pharmaceutical companies is Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), extracted from willow. Egyptian pharaonoic pharmacology papyri from the second millennium B.C. feature a pharmacopoeia that reflects modern Western medicine.

Around 400 B.C. Hippocrates made reference to salicylic tea for the purpose of reducing fevers. Willow bark extract was recognized for its healing effects on fever, pain and inflammation; the drug we know today as Aspirin.

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