Modern Perspective on Traditional Medicines of the Past

Modern Perspective on Traditional Medicines of the Past

The practice of modern medicine in the last two centuries is sometimes thought of as the beginning of medical treatment. Quite to the contrary, indigenous people of North America were identifying and using medicinal plants long before European settlers arrived. The different tribes discovered and developed sophisticated formularies of plants that have been used traditionally for centuries.

The development of medicinal plants and various traditional healing techniques was not isolated to early American history. Around the globe, early civilizations somehow discovered and used natural therapies of all kinds. Chinese traditional medicine is a treasure trove of ancient knowledge about human physiology and how different plants could affect healing. Today, modern pharmacological research into the chemistry of medicinal mushrooms may have been inspired by such Chinese traditions.

Diverse cultures and traditional therapies from different locations seem indicative of the practicality and effectiveness of such practices. The experiences handed down over generations would hardly have continued if there weren’t some evidence of success. Today, researchers are taking a new look at traditional medicines and are confirming their efficacy in several cases. Examples of success stories include Artemisinin and Lovastatin. 

Development of Artemisinin

This drug therapy is effective in treating malaria by killing the parasite that causes the disease. It was developed by following up on traditional uses of the bark of the cinchona tree found in South America. First, the drug quinine was developed but overuse during the Vietnam conflict caused the parasite to develop a resistance to its effectiveness. Subsequently, discoveries associated with traditional medicines in China using sweet wormwood resulted in isolating and developing Artemisinin and other derivative compounds that work together in the effective treatment of malaria.

Development of Lovastatin

Certain fungi such as oyster mushrooms produce this compound which was discovered in the 1970s. It is effective in lowering LDL cholesterol without significant side-effects. Initial concerns about a related compound, compactin, slowed its development but after further studies, it was approved for use to treat high cholesterol.

Traditional medicine has provided modern science with promising areas of investigation for new treatments. Many lines of research are now being conducted based on the rich cultural heritage and wisdom of ancient civilizations.