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Problems with Plant Immunostimulation Research

What’s a ‘good’ immune system? Presumably it’s one that can fight infections and inhibit tumor development without causing collateral damage. And conceivably, we can support our immune system by taking plants that fortify or strengthen it, hopefully by restoring the internal controls that keeps the immune system from destroying its own tissues. We call these agents ‘immunomodulations’. When you think about it, it’s a pretty esoteric concept.

As opposed to immune modulation, immunostimulation seems more straightforward and precise. Right? However, the concept of immune ‘stimulation’ is a new one, originating from conclusions of in vitro research. It doesn’t have a discernible historical or traditional basis. (But signs and correlates of inflammation like pain and fever were embraced and treated by a wide range of cultures.) So immune stimulation isn’t empirical in origin; it’s largely based on theoretical considerations from in vitro work. And there are some issues with this data. Read more

Medical Cannabis Class Notes from the Traditional Roots Conference

Last weekend the Traditional Roots Conference was held at NCNM in Portland. And what a great weekend it was! Along with myself, teachers and speakers included Jim McDonald, Aviva Romm, Lydia Bartholow, Donnie Yance, Glen Nagel, Howie Brounstein, Tania Neubauer, and Jillian Stansbury. Orna Izakson is a stellar organizer and hosted a wonderful and engaging event (besides being an overall excellent person and good friend!).

Along with a clinical case panel on PCOS (with Elise Schroeder and Amanda Lattin), I taught a class on medical cannabis for herbalists on Friday. I was still recovering from the flu, so I’m grateful for the patience of all in attendance. Nevertheless, it was a true joy to teach on this important subject. We covered chemistry, pharmacology, clinical applications, routes of administration, safety/toxicology and QA issues.

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Medicinal Mushrooms in the Human Mycobiome

Big discoveries in little things. That seems to characterize our learnings about the importance of the human microbiome. Our developing understanding of microbes and their role in health and disease has led to a nation-wide wake up call for more responsible use of antibiotics in livestock farming and medical practice. We’re beginning to understand the role of bacteria in systemic immunity, digestion, nutrient absorption, inflammation, autoimmunity, hormone metabolism, and neurotransmitters. We’re expanding our awareness by examining the human virome and the role of beneficial viruses.

And now, researchers are now beginning to look at the human mycobiome. The relationship between humans and their resident fungal species has been a neglected field of study. We’re familiar with genuses like Candida, Cryptococcus, and Aspergillus. But there are many, many species of fungi living in our lungs, digestive tracts, oral cavities, and skin that are just starting to be characterized. These likely play a big role in health and disease and highly influenced by our own immune responses. I suggest this is another pathway by which medicinal mushrooms work in the body. Read more

The AncientBiotics Project – testing medieval remedies to treat contemporary pathogens

Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK investigated a formulation was a 10th century remedy for eye infections from Bald’s Leechbook to treat MRSA. The main ingredients include garlic, alliums, wine, and oxgall (cow bile), steeped for 9 days.

So far, the research seems promising. The data is not yet available, but the investigators claim that Bald’s eyesalve-

  • eradicated of 90% of MRSA cells in vivo (murine wound infection model),
  • penetrated biofilms,

Furthermore, a dilution did not eradicate but inhibited quorum sensing and the ingredients tested as sole agents did not demonstrate the same antimicrobial effects. 

Now, this is preclinical in vitro and in vivo research–the clinical significance is not clear. The mechanisms of action have not been elucidated by the team, but they suspect the complex array of antimicrobial compounds target bacterial reproduction and biofilm formation in several ways. And from our knowledge of phytochemical complexity and systems biology, this would seem to make sense. The findings were presented the findings at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology on 3/30/15.

Not only do I find this type of research collaboration (medieval studies and microbiology) fascinating, but I think the applications to antibiotic resistant bacteria are very relevant and important. I think future treatments for antibiotic resistant bacteria will be complex and target multiple aspects of the infection cascade. This is a great partnership and promising field–and I look forward to more developments.

UK Dept of Health report on herbal medicine regulations

The UK Department of Health just released a report entitled Advice on regulating herbal medicines and practitioners for the purpose of advising the government on the regulation of herbal practice. The Herbal Medicines Working Group, the responsible party, seems to not have included all stakeholders (with the exception of a few Ayurvedic practitioners). None of the NIMH herbalists are listed as having any participation in the discussions.

One of the conclusions of this report: there is insufficient evidence to allow herbalists to self-regulate. Ergo they must be regulated. The situation in the UK is complex, and I leave my seasoned English colleagues to offer more insightful commentary. But this is clearly one more step among many that is stilfing and suffocating herbal practice. Read more

The Sustainable Herbs Project

As an herbalist who helps formulate and develop herbal supplements, sourcing, supply chain and quality control are paramount. I want to help educate others on what constitutes good quality products and maintain quality standards in the industry.

Anthropologist Ann Armbrecht (who brought us the Numen film) is creating a new documentary called the Sustainable Herbs Project, which explores these facets of herbal trade and product development. They want to make it available for free. To do so, they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project. Please consider making a pledge (I did!) to make this documentary a reality and raise awareness about what goes into herbal supplements.

A Double-take on Herbal Adulteration

As an herbalist who works in the herbal product industry, I care about quality and adulteration in herbal trade. But what happened earlier this week just bugs me. Issues of herbal adulteration are good reasons to use local herbs and develop relationships with suppliers. My problem with this is that adulteration is not even confirmed in this case–it’s findings from only one lab, using methods that aren’t even considered acceptable for validation of herbal extracts.

James Schulte was commissioned to perform DNA barcoding on supplements from 4 retailers across NY state. The samples were sent to one lab and many failed DNA testing, leading to conclusions of herbal adulteration. The New York Attorney General subsequently issued cease and desist letters to Walmart, Target, GNC, and Walgreens to remove herbal products from their shelves that failed DNA authentication. Read more

Whole Artemisia plant overcomes Artemisin-resistant malaria in mice: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Whole plant medicine is the territory of herbalists. Based in the wisdom of our ancestors, many herbalists utilize whole-plant synergy in the form of powdered herbs, tinctures, and teas. This contrasts the practice of isolation and purification of plant compounds. Isolated compounds are have stronger monotherapeutic action, and are more conducive to current clinical research models. How do they stack up to whole herbs? The research is shedding more light on this.

Artemisinin is isolated from Artemisia annua, and has some unique chemical features not commonly seen in other natural compounds. Since its discovery in the 1970’s it has shown promising activity against Plasmodium falciparum malaria (and, increasingly, other parasitic infections) after chloroquine drug exhausted its utility as the drug of choice. As with many single compounds, Artemisinin-resistant strains of malaria have begun to emerge. Read more