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Artemisinin and the Nobel prize: A tale of two medical systems

The Nobel Committee of Medicine and Physiology announced Youyou Tu as the Nobel Prize winner for her work in the development of artemisinin to treat malaria. Artemisinin is derived from the Chinese herb qinghao, also known as Sweet wormwood or Artemesia annua. The story of artemisinin’s discovery and development is a compelling one, revealing the political and cultural forces that shape bioprospecting and pharmacognosy. It’s also the story of the transformation of medicinal plants and compounds as they travel through diverse medical systems.

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On Diets and Black Swans

Figuring out what to eat is hard. And it’s getting harder. We have more chronic health conditions, more nutrition research, and more food options. The omnivore’s dilemma is real, and it lives in nearly everyone seeking to heal themselves through food.

A recent news story on NPR asserted that Paleolithic people were making flour as far back as 32000 years ago. This new fact disturbs our understanding of paleolithic diets. Reactions on social media include, “Wow! I can have oats on my paleo diet!,” “Yes! I can have flour again!!,” and similar expressions of relief. Read more

Herbal medicine, according to stock photography

Curious about the public perception of herbalists and herbal medicine, I searched the iStock photo library. To be honest, I expected image results that were closer to a caricature than an actual living, functioning herbalist. But we see people touching plants, plants scattered about on trays and counters and things. These photos highlight the plants themselves, and direct connection with them. Nice.

The images of herbal medicine themselves were expectedly mild, nice, trim and prim. (Albeit with an overuse of mortal and pestles.)

Scroll below for some results. Regard the people in the photos: do you notice a slight pattern? It’s not exactly an daunting task to deduce the demographics associated with herbal medicine in the public eye.

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Farewell to the Free Clinic

August 21 marks my last day as a clinical herbalist at the Olympia Free Herbal Clinic. After 5 years of volunteer work, my departure conjures an array of emotions: excitement, sadness, and contradictory ones like guilt with concurrent relief.

I’m leaving the free clinic to engage in premedical studies at the University of Washington. I’ll still be available as a clinical herbalist at my own practice, Goldroot Botanical Medicine, and will continue to see clients who I’ve established a relationship with at OFHC on a sliding scale basis. (Sliding scale is available to all my clients.) To help focus my efforts, I want to bring everything under one roof. Working between 2 different practices is hard, and it leaves me feeling scattered as a practitioner. Read more

How to email people

I’ve had the pleasure to work for several high-impact and well-known figures in the mycology and medical fields. Over the years of being a research assistant and science educator, I’ve handled an extraordinary amount of email inquiries: speaking and interview requests, research collaboration proposals, business proposals, technical questions, requests for personal advice and mentorship. And throughout that time, I’ve come to understand what makes emails compelling and engaging, and how to effectively communicate a message or request. Here are some of the key points to consider when you’re emailing someone for the first time. Read more

Building the Healing Hut: Advice for New Diagnoses and Related Plot Twists

When receiving a new diagnosis, we’re rarely prepared. It’s as if we’re woken up from our sleep and told that we have to leave for a trip overseas, right now, with 5 minutes to pack an overnight bag. You have to rapidly reorganized, rethink, replan. What does this mean for me? Can I heal? How will I?

The healing journey is one that everyone travels at some point, as we all hold passports to this night side of life. But it can be a difficult road. Along the way we confront fear, isolation, uncertainty, resource limitations, the mundane horrors of medical treatments and the metamorphosis of identity. There are many ways that we can gracefully support the road of healing. I call this Building the Healing Hut. It’s a metaphor for the container in which healing takes place. It’s a way to conceive of the preparations to encourage healing, expansion, peace, and grace throughout the journey.

This handout was inspired both by my process and experiences with clients, as well as my own personal experience with the healing process. Download the free PDF here, and feel free to share widely.

Reishi reduces obesity in mice and positively alters microbiome composition

Over the last few years we’ve been fed hints that nutraceutical mushrooms may play a role in the composition of the gut microbiome. First there was an in vitro study. Then, in August 2014, a clinical trial from Harvard Medical School found that Turkey Tail (biomass) polysaccharides acted as prebiotics in the digestive tract.

Now, a recent study in Nature Communications found that Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) reduced obesity in mice by affecting the composition of the gut microbiome. Now, I’m not one to jump at the sight of research ‘against obesity’ as if fat-shaming. But we already knew that Reishi impacts insulin sensitivity, but microbiome alteration is a new piece of data. Read more

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