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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Of Herb Books and Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Over the years, I had collected such a stash of herb books that I felt guilty. The above picture shows half the stash. For the last 3 years, I steadfastly refrained from buying any more. "You'll never feel that you have enough, Petunia."... and I had visions of an eccentric old woman lying dead in a house filled wall-to-floor-to-ceiling with herb books that Police Officers had to hack through to extract my corpse. Ewwww!

"A little discipline in this regard won't kill you, Petunia" I told myself.

But when The Husband went on a business trip to USA some time earlier in the year, I could think of nothing that I wanted more than herb books. So, I went shopping on Amazon for these below. I am glad I did. My learning had largely stopped for 3 years for want of new material to read. These new books taught me a few exciting things.

Firstly, I learnt that echinacea flowers, stems and leaves are also effective against flus because they modulated the levels of interferon in the bloodstream, thereby stimulating the body's immune response against the flu virus. See here. I had previously thought only the roots were potent. Understandably, I was overjoyed because it means no longer having to massacre beautiful and healthy echinacea plants whenever the family came down with flu. I shall be able to keep the last 2 echinacea plants I have and in time, I shall be able to divide their roots and perhaps have 4 mature plants instead.

Secondly, I learnt of the bacterial revolution that has been quietly taking place in hospitals... and the doctors aren't winning. The words to describe this are adapted from the book in the foreground entitled "Herbal Antibiotics" by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

Late in 1993, a Newsweek article reported the death of Dr Cynthia Gilbert's patient from what used to be a highly curable disease - an enterococcus bacterial infection. This particular strain of the bacteria was resistant to every antibiotic in Dr Gibert's arsenal.

Bacteria are single-cell organisms containing, among other things, special loops of their DNA called plasmids. Whenever 2 bacteria meet - and they do not have to be the same kind of bacteria - they position themselves alongside each other and exchange information. Unfortunately for us, one of the types of information they exchange is antibiotic resistance.

During an information exchange, a resistant bacterium extrudes a filament of itself, a plasmid, to the nonresistant bacterium, which opens a door in its cell wall. Within the filament is a copy of a portion of the resistant bacterium's DNA. Specifically, it contains the encoded information on resistance to one or more antibiotics.

Levy and his team took 6 groups of chickens and placed them 50 in a cage. 4 cages were in a barn; 2 were just outside. Half the chickens received food containing subtherapeutic doses of oxytetracycline (a method farmers often use to speed up growth in meat animals). The faeces of the chickens, as well as of the farm family living nearby and the farm families in the neighbourhood were examined weekly. Within 24 to 36 hours after the chickens had eaten the first batch of antibiotic-containing food, the faeces of the chickens showed E-coli bacteria resistant to tetracycline.

But, even more remarkable, by the end of 3 months, the E Coli of ALL the chickens were resistant to ampicillin, streptomycin, and sulfanamides even though the chickens had never been fed those drugs. None of those drugs had been used by anyone in contact with those chickens. Still more startling: at the end of 5 months, the faeces of the nearby farm family contained E Coli resistant to tetracycline. By the 6th month, their E Coli was also resistant to five other antibiotics. At this point, the study ended, noting that none of the other families in the surrounding neighbourhood had developed antibiotic resistant E Coli bacteria. However, in a similar but longer study in Germany, it was found that this resistance did move into the surrounding community, taking a little over 2 years.

Stephen Harrod Buhner proposes that herbal medicines are superior to antibiotics because pharmaceutical antibiotics are simple substances, not complex... and because of this, bacteria can more easily figure out how to counteract their effects. Herbs contain a cocktail of substances and are very complex. For instance, yarrow, a healing herb, contains 120 active constituents. This effectively means that every time  you take yarrow, you are taking in 120 different medicines. Even garlic has more than 50 active constituents, some unknown.

Hmmmmmmm... this was an interesting piece of trivia. Now I know why chewing  raw garlic clears up diarrheoa every time in our family.


Fresh Fry aka 福星 said...

the very reason why i'm on TCM whenever i'm ill for the last 10 years. only rare time i take western meds was when i got the chicken pox.

western meds works in a very myopic way. traditional meds have been around for thousands of years while western meds only for the last 300 years? there was only exponential growth in the recent 100 years.

good o' traditional meds gives the best results + feelings of real health. never felt recovered after i take flu meds in the past, though the symptoms were gone.

Petunia Lee said...

Fry - Yup! We do TCM quite a bit too plus these North American Indian Folk Medicines.

Open Kitchen Concept said...

Oh very interesting... hm.. is there any herb that help one lose weight? :) (I'm planning ahead.. :P)

Petunia Lee said...

OKC - Whoa! I was just looking for a herb like that!!

Ivana said...

I've also turned to TCM. I was going to ask you for recommendations on books to read up on herbs when we met... now I don't have to. = )

Petunia Lee said...

Ivana - Oh yay! When you come by, I'll show off all my books! Teeheehee!