Imagine you have found a plant in nature with healing abilities. One only needs to chew a little bit of it or steep in hot water and drink it. It takes away swelling and pain from an injury or reduces fevers. Over time, this plant is studied more closely by a chemist; separating, extracting, and purifying the medicinal qualities of the plant into a shelf stable form and more readily accessible in times of necessity. This would be absolutely amazing, right?
Well this isn’t just a hypothetical scenario. This is the history of aspirin and how much of what modern medicine has come about. The bark of the willow tree and other plants containing salicylic acid was known and used throughout much of history, even as far back as ancient Egypt, for reducing pain, inflammation, and fevers. Chemists in the 1850’s studied and isolated the necessary components and thus the modern medicinal form of aspirin found on the shelf of your local pharmacy came to be.
Think about some of the images Western medicine seems to bring to mind. Do you imagine brightly colored synthetic liquids bubbling in glass beakers over Bunsen burners? A sterile laboratory wholly separated from the outside world? Perhaps even businessmen in suits sitting around a table piled high with stacks of money? Modern medicine is not created in a vacuum. In all actuality, modern medicine is just ancient or even alternative medicine that has managed to withstand the rigorous tests of time and scientific sudy to become what it is today.
But how can I know an alternative method doesn’t work if I haven’t tried it for myself? A similar juxtaposition could be made in that some people find sky diving or other extreme sports, even running marathons quite exhilarating. It induces the release of hormones and other chemical reactions in the brain. I prefer other less extreme pleasure-inducing activities though. Something more along the lines of family bike rides to the park, playing games, or sipping a warm cup of herbal tea on a cold evening while petting a cat and reading a book or scrolling through my facebook feed.
Of course, there are some old health remedies I have tried, mostly for kicks and giggles, one of which was putting potato slices on my feet at night. I didn’t try it out in hopes it would relieve me of illness though. In fact, I wasn’t even sick but I sure was tired! I wanted to test out a hypothesis: Do the slices turn black because they’re reacting to my dirty and grossly sweaty feet after a long day at work or the incubating heat of my body? I took two slices of potato, rubbed one of them on my feet, and placed them in two separate plastic bags in between my socks on my feet for a night. As suspected, the potato slice that came in short contact with my feet reacted by turning black while the control slice stayed the same.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I am a person driven by logic. I find the emotional tugs toward some DIY and anecdotal health remedies somewhat counter-intuitive. Alternative remedies if found useless can even be harmful if not well understood either because A) proper medical treatment gets delayed, or B) a substance is used incorrectly. It’s probably why I speak up in hopes discussions are generated and people begin to think, no matter how uncomfortable or irritating it may be. Of course, by all means, modern medicine isn’t perfect or without faults. There are still many avenues to explore, boulders to overcome, and much to learn.
Ancient or modern, all medicine comes from nature and must be subjected to scientific research methods (hypothesis, experiment, data collection, conclusion, etc.) to be better understood while being respected and used responsibly. Remember the history of aspirin next time you read nature cannot be patented. I found it fascinating. Did you?
Follow your heart but take your brain with you, this science mom is signing off!