Sunday evenings generally has me slumped on my sofa watching telly, tummy full of Sunday dins and a couple of glasses of wine. Lovely. This last Sunday I watched Countryfile and they were in Snowdonia, land of the really wet. They interviewed an organic farmer who was restoring his National Trust owned fields to wildflower meadows, and the chat was generally about the huge diversity of wild flowers there and the UK in general. He was aiming to restore his farm to how it would have been in his Great Grandfather’s time. Then we trundled over to a field called The Hospital Field, where traditionally they used to put sick animals. This farmer had put a young goat, a kid, who was a bit off colour in the field and within a few days the kid was skipping about again. The reason for the recovery was put down to it naturally chosing to eat the flowers and herbs that it needed to to heal itself. And I felt sad that we humans no longer nurture this ability in ourselves, relying on pharmaceuticals to sort us – or our animals – out. To a certain extent we still do self-medicate – for many, when feeling very stressed or upset, we turn to comfort eating, which is a form of self-medication. The fatty sweet food makes us feel temporarily happier. If we are tired, we stoke up on coffee or strongly caffeinated drinks such as Red Bull. For many, a glass of wine or beer after a days work helps us relax. But when we have a cold, we reach for the painkillers; depressed, the anti-depressants.
I suppose we have always relied on doctors, placing faith in their remedies – from blood letting to drinking horrible concoctions and there was a long tradition of visiting the wise woman/herbalist with her eye of newt and so on. Indeed, herbalism is still alive today – the BBC interviewed one for the programme, and she demonstrated an ointment made out of plantain, which has anti-inflammatory properties and makes a good salve for cuts and scratches. But herbalism isn’t main stream and the majority of people take a pharmaceutical painkiller for a headache or dab on an antiseptic cream for a cut.
The real problems come when we take pharmaceutical ‘cures’ on a regular basis, be they painkillers, anti-depressants or cures for insomnia. I’m going to pick on painkillers since they are commonly taken with little thought given to the long term consequences. Without delving into great details, painkillers are best used, if at all, as a last ditch resort. Drugs such as Ibuprofen (in the UK, Nurofen, Anadin Ibuprofen) work by altering the body’s production of a group of hormone like chemicals collectively called prostaglandins. We may have heard of such drugs as Cox 2 inhibitors. Cox 2 is a prostaglandin that causes inflammation, pain and fever. The body produces inflammation, pain and fever for good reasons – partly to make us stop or even just slow down and do something about the pain. By regularly taking ibuprofen just to get through the day or night, we disrupt proper prostaglandin production, leading to some nasty health issues, as can be read in this link to Drug Therapy In Nursing by Diane S Aschenbrenner and Samantha Venable. A summary: stomach bleeds and distress; damage to the kidneys, to the inner ears; blurred vision, liver toxicity. Really not good. Its all very sad and we are all much misled. Bring back the wildflowers!
Anyway, another topic up for discussion was GM foods – genetically modified. So far in Europe we eschew these foods, apparently calling them Frankenstein foods – this said as if we are all a bit hysterical about it and overreacting. Our reactions to it not based on fact but on ‘scientific hype or groundless fears’. And so the programme blathered on saying GM is basically nice and cuddly now. And they are working on producing barley with zinc in it! 1 Well, I never. In the olden days, when they put organic matter back on the soil as fertilizer, this organic matter contained zinc and magnesium and selenium and many other trace minerals. I think this means that our barley would naturally contain zinc (and the other nutrients), if given full fat, natural fertilizer instead of the NPK2 only found in modern fertilizers. What is even more surprising is that the bran of whole barley contains phytates, molecules that attach to zinc in the digestive tract and remove it from our system. And so, as a result of all this scientific endeavour, good money can be spent on premium GM barley so we can once again get zinc from our food – and poo it out the other end, remaining as weak of immune system as before. Profits all round, it seems.