Natural medicines in holistic healing are growing in popularity, but all too often are rendered useless by the addition of inactive ingredients that either neutralize their effects or introduce dangerous contaminants. Drug interaction is a major concern when combining natural supplements with modern pharmaceuticals, and scientific studies have failed to address this issue adequately.
There were many plants and each had its properties, so it became possible to merge certain plants to create synergy with desired healing effects. Thus the multi-herb remedy came into existence.
But what’s in natural medicine? A study of echinacea, for example, reveals that this herb contains a mixture of chemicals, including caffeic acid derivatives, polyacetylenes, and sesquiterpene lactones. Pharmaceutical drugs are typically derived from these same chemicals.
Many pharmaceuticals were derived from natural herbs during the mid-to-late-19th century when scientists began isolating active ingredients to synthesize them. The first pure chemical isolated from a natural product was salicin, the active compound in white willow bark, isolated from which is acetylsalicylic acid—aspirin!
Marketplace Of Today
In today’s marketplace there are over-the-counter and prescription drugs that contain hundreds of these plant compounds as inactive ingredients: ibuprofen, codeine, digoxin, vincristine, morphine—the list is endless.
Echinacea contains caffeic acid derivatives that are known to have anti-inflammatory activity. Many nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) deliver the same effects by chemically altering arachidonic acid in the body’s inflammatory pathways. Aspirin, for example, works by inhibiting the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase (COX), which normally acts to produce prostaglandins from arachidonic acid. Inhibition of this enzyme reduces pain and fever in the body systemically.
The caffeic acid
The caffeic acid derivative echinacoside in echinacea inhibits COX as well, and without side effects. According to a study published by the International Journal of Immunopathology & Pharmacology, “echinacoside may be particularly beneficial for those not responding to NSAIDs about their anti-inflammatory activity as echinacoside does not cause major gastrointestinal irritation.”
The application of E purpurea
Echinacoside also prevents the release of histamines, which are involved in allergic reactions. This helps explain why echinacea is sometimes effective for allergies and hay fever.
For example, a recent case report published in the Stanford University Medical Center Journal documented the use of Echinacea purpurea by an emergency dentist to help a patient with an infection following a wisdom tooth extraction. The dentist applied the echinacea topically to the gum region surrounding the extraction site, which appeared to be inflamed by postoperative edema.
The application of E purpurea at the site successfully resolved any signs of soft tissue trauma and inflammation, while minimizing soft tissue exposure to potentially pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
How echinacea can be used topically
This case report is just one example of how echinacea can be used topically to treat inflammation and promote healing. This may pose a great benefit in the treatment of skin cancers, for which we currently rely on sometimes excruciating surgical removal followed by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy with toxic pharmaceutical drugs such as 5-fluorouracil(5FU).
Natural substances initially discovered in plants
All of the pharmaceutical products used today to prevent or treat pain, fever, swelling, and inflammation are derived from natural substances initially discovered in plants. This suggests that many of the drugs on the market today were originally derived from herbs or plant extracts.
The phytochemicals in the plants may have been “discovered,” but it’s a leap to say they were designed, since these chemicals developed over millions of years of evolution. It is only by accident that these substances were found to be useful for humans.