Monday, July 12, 2010

"Integrating modern and traditional medicine"

From the Science and Development Network:

Traditional medicine (TM) is due a revival. For millennia, people around the world have healed the sick with herbal or animal-derived remedies, handed down through generations.

In Africa and Asia, 80 per cent of the population still uses traditional remedies rather than modern medicine for primary healthcare.

And in developed nations, TM is rapidly gaining appeal. Estimates suggest up to 80 per cent of the population has tried a therapy such as acupuncture or homeopathy. And a survey conducted earlier this year found that 74 per cent of US medical students believe that Western medicine would benefit by integrating traditional or alternative therapies and practices. [1]

The industry is worth big money. In 2005, traditional medicines worth US$14 billion were sold in China. And in 2007, Brazil saw revenues of US$160 million from traditional therapies — part of a global market of more than US$60 billion. [2, 3]

The truth is that modern medicine is desperately short of new treatments. It takes years for a new drug to get through the research and development pipeline to manufacture and the cost is enormous.

And growing drug resistance, in part caused by the misuse of medications, has rendered several antibiotics and other life-saving drugs useless.

Both these trends mean that scientists and pharmaceutical companies are urgently looking for new drug sources and are increasingly turning their eyes to traditional medicine.

A few major triumphs have stoked interest in traditional medicine as a source for highly successful and lucrative drugs. The best known of these is artemisinin used to treat malaria.

Across the globe, researchers, policymakers, pharmaceutical companies and traditional healers are joining forces to bring TM into the 21st century.

In some ways, it is already here. Nearly a quarter of all modern medicines are derived from natural products, many of which were first used in traditional remedies.

Table 1: Selected modern drugs that come from traditional medicine_________________

What it is for

Derived from

Originally used in



Produced by the Chinese herb Qinghao or sweet wormwood

Traditional Chinese medicine for chills and fevers


Asthma prophylaxis

Synthetic compound based on khellin, active ingredient of the khella plant

Traditional Middle Eastern remedies for asthma. Khellin has also traditionally been used in Egypt to treat kidney stones



Synthesized from podophyllotoxin, produced by the mandrake plant

Various remedies in Chinese, Japanese and Eastern folk medicine



Salivary glands in leeches, now produced by genetic engineering

Traditional remedies across the globe, from Shui Zhi medicine in China to 18th and 19th century medicine in Europe


To lower cholesterol

Foods such as oyster mushrooms and red yeast rice.

Used to synthesize other compounds such as mevastatin and pravastatin

Mushrooms are used to treat a wide range of illnesses in traditional medicine in China, Japan, Eastern Europe and Russia



Unripe poppy seeds

Traditional Arab, Chinese, European, Indian and North African medicines as pain relief and to treat range of illnesses including diarrhoea, coughs and asthma



Bark of the cinchona tree

Traditional remedies to treat fevers and shivers in South America

Vinca alkaloids

(vincristine, vinblastine)


Rosy periwinkle

Various folk remedies across the world, including use as an anti-diabetic in Jamaica, to treat wasp stings in Indian traditional medicine, as eyewash in Cuba, as love potion in medieval Europe

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