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close this bookOutreach No. 66 - Drugs Part 3: Herbal Medicine (New York University - TVE - UNEP - WWF, 40 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentArticles on herbal medicines that have appeared in back issues of OUTREACH
View the documentContents
View the documentPlants that kill can often cure (plus exercise)
View the documentThe effect of plant chemicals on animals
View the documentA disappearing storehouse of medicinal plants
View the documentThe effect of plant chemicals on humans
View the documentWar on drugs: the tobacco connection
View the documentTraditional herbal medicine and “modern” medicine
View the documentUsing local plants to treat intestinal worms
View the documentTreating cuts and wounds
View the documentUnderstanding medicinal plants teaching materials available from World Neighbors
View the documentTraditional medicine to graduate
View the documentFilm: Jungle pharmacy
View the documentIndigenous treatment for drug dependence in Thailand
View the documentIdentifying health-protecting customs
View the documentA simple and effective cough syrup we can prepare at little cost from the plants we find around us
View the documentDiscovering the uses of medicinal plants in your neighbourhood
View the documentFilm and teaching suggestions - Herbal medicine: fact or fiction?
View the documentPills and potions
View the documentRevival of traditional medicine in Amazonia
View the documentDecode the drug
View the documentBiodiversity and health
View the documentBarefoot doctors
View the documentHow a rainforest in Western Samoa was saved

Biodiversity and health

World Wide Fund for Nature, (WWF International)
CH-1196 Gland,
SWITZERLAND

The information below is taken from:
WWF Biological Diversity Campaign Fact Sheet 4.
If reproduced, please give credit to: WWF

The fact sheets form part of WWF’s Biological Diversity Campaign which was launched on 30 March 1989. As part of the campaign, WWF published a more comprehensive 30-page statement entitled, “The Importance of Biological Diversity”, which has been endorsed by 10 of the world’s top scientists and environmentalists. The statement gives a basic understanding of what biological diversity is, why it is important for everyone in the world and what can be done to conserve it. For a free copy of the statement, write to Soh-Koon Chng, WWF International, and the address above.

The following are just a few examples of how protecting biological diversity - the variety of flora and fauna - can also protect our health.

PLANT MEDICINES

· Vincristine and vinblastine, from the Madagascan rosy periwinkle Catharanthus roseus are used to treat childhood leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease.

· Reserpine, extracted from the small Indian snakeroot shrub Rauvolfia serpentina is used in tranquilizers.

· Digitoxin, from the European foxglove Digitalis purpurea is a powerful regulator of erratic hearts.

· Diosgenin from the Mexican yam Dioscorea elephantipes is used in the treatment of rheumatism and to produce oral contraceptives.

· The mayapple Podophyllum peltatum, used by American Indians to treat warts, has provided a blueprint for a new drug to treat testicular cancer.

· Tubocurarine from Chondrodendron tomentosum, a chief ingredient of curare from the Amazon, is used as a muscle relaxant.

· Comfrey Symphytum officinale is now the source of allantoine, a wound-healing agent formerly obtained by the application of sheep blow-fly larvae to wounds.

· Mandrake of the Solonaceae family, mentioned in the Bible and by Plato, yields the important sedative hyoscine; under the name of scopolamine it remains the standard pre-operative medication.

· The chanca piedra leaf is commonly used by Peruvian Amazon Indians to reduce and expel gall and kidney stones.

· Many South American tribes use a tea brewed from Erythroxylum coca leaves to ease pain, cure attitude sickness and as an antidepressant.

· The bitter yellow leaves of the fenu-greek plant Trigonella foenum-graecum are used in India to help alleviate the effects of diabetes.

· A tea brewed from a shrub called Maesa lanceolata is used by Kenyan medicine men to combat cholera.

· The Barasana of Colombia use the dried and pounded spadix of unripe lilies (Araceae) as an oral contraceptive.

· In China, fresh cotton seed Gossypium barbadense oil provides the male oral contraceptive gossypol.

· The autumn crocus Colchicum autumnale was used in Arab medicine for treating gout at least as long ago as the tenth century AD.

· A distillation made from sandalwood (Santalum species) is used in Pakistan to treat infections of the urinary tract.

· The Achual Jivaro Indians in Peru chew a plant called yana muco which appears to prevent tooth decay.

· Quinine from the cinchona tree Cinchona ledgeriana is used to fight malaria.

· Scientists use extracts from an Amazonian oak and an Australian chestnut to coagulate proteins in their attempts to develop AIDS vaccines.

· Some scientists estimate that as many as 1400 plant species in tropical forests offer potential cures for cancer.

· Among drugs now produced synthetically but with natural origins, we can count aspirin, first discovered in Meadowsweet Spirea ulmaria; the anaesthetic lignocaine, based on cocaine; and alkaloids based on quinine.

NON-PLANT MEDICINES

· A little sea squirt (Tunicata) produces a compound called didemnin B, a drug which is now being tested for anti-cancer properties.

· A Caribbean sponge (Porifera) provided a model for the synthesis of ara-c, now used in tumour treatment.

· Highly active chemicals found in sea hares (Nudibrancha), soft corals, sea whips and sea fans (Coelenterata) secrete chemicals with potential anti-tumour activity.

· Leeches (Hirudinia) produce at least eight medical chemicals, including hirudin, a powerful anticoagulant.

· Maggot (Diptera) saliva contains bacteria that secrete powerful antibiotic chemicals.

· Chinese health experts say that powder made from ants (Formicidae) can cure rheumatoid arthritis.

· Bee (Apis species) venom is used in the treatment of arthritis.

ECONOMIC VALUE

· Worldwide, the commercial value of medicines based on natural products is over US$20 billion a year.

· Economic value of good health (such as wages not lost and hospitals that do not have to be built) could be as high as US$1800 billion a year for OECD* countries alone.

* OECD - Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development. It is the principal economic organization of the industrialized countries of the North.