Capitalizing on Nature

My intention in approaching topics like this isn’t so much to push peoples’ buttons as it is to get them thinking in a more critical manner about what they take at face value. If I told you I didn’t smirk at some of the angry comments I received however, I would be lying.

Recently, a friend of mine posted an “article” about how sodium bicarbonate or baking soda cures cancer and how drug companies don’t want us to know about it because they make so much money off chemotherapy. I could not resist pointing out that drug companies do in fact manufacture and sell sodium bicarbonate in injection form and for what hospitals pay for it on a per gram basis, they are making quite a bit more on sodium bicarbonate than the grocery store is. Hospitals of course also mark it up a bit when we give it via injection and while I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head how much the hospital I work for charges for an injection, I can tell you that if I were using it to treat cancer, I’d make more than enough to maintain my current lifestyle. And I’d also be recommending that we monitor things like blood pH and white cell counts so I’d still do alright on the monitoring end of things as well. My point being, if sodium bicarbonate was in fact a reasonable treatment for cancer – and if cancer was some sort of single disease that responded to one form of treatment – not only would drug companies recommend it and health care providers use it to the result of everyone making money on it, no new production of medical grade sodium bicarbonate would occur because drug companies already make it, health care providers already use it and they all make money on it. Just not for cancer.

In the weeks that followed I saw roughly a dozen other articles touting some natural cure that drug companies don’t want you to know about because then they couldn’t make money on them. I do not currently have any friends or acquaintances working at the executive level in any research and design department in any pharmaceutical company so I do not know that the following activity occurs but I like to think it does. An executive level research scientist for a major drug company is sitting at her desk after getting off the phone with the financial department about budgetary issues and needs to decompress before going back out into the laboratory to whip the post docs back to work. She clicks on social media for some mindless internet surfing and comes across an “article” touting celery as the anti-hypertensive secret the drug companies don’t want consumers to know about.

“This is ridiculous,” she thinks to herself as she opens a separate tab and starts combing through the scientific literature for any studies on the effect of celery on hypertension. “If there were even a reasonable amount of evidence that celery contained an effective treatment for hypertension, of course we could isolate it, purify it and make money on it. We built an entire brand around the extract of White Willow bark for goodness sake.”

And of course, she would be correct. An early form of aspirin was isolated from Willow bark in Hippocrates time and the compound was isolated in 1763. It still remains a reasonable treatment for mild pain, fever and as an anti-thrombotic in people at risk for strokes or heart attacks. And Bayer still makes money selling it. Somewhere between 1803 and 1805 a German pharmacist isolated a compound from the Poppy plant that became morphine and pain control became a lucrative and slightly dodgy industry. Still is. Later in the 19th century a plant metabolic product known as Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid was synthesized in the laboratory. Nearly 60 years later it was discovered to be part of the mammalian central nervous system and a hundred years after it was first synthesized it was found to be very useful in the treatment of nerve pain and seizure activity. Analogues of this natural product are used to treat nerve pain associated with diabetes today.

And that’s just a few pain treatments that are natural in origin. Less than 100 years ago, Alexander Fleming noticed that the Pencillium notatum mold, if grown on the right substrate would inhibit and even kill bacteria. A few years later the world was forever changed by a new ability to combat infectious disease. The fungus Acremonium eventually gave us Cephalosporin drugs and these two classes of drugs, penicillins and cephalosporins,  are still among the most commonly used antibiotics we have available to us.

But what about cancer drugs? Those are poisons. True but like a lot of other pharmaceuticals, many chemotherapy drugs have a natural origin. Vincristine is listed among the WHO’s list of essential medicines for a health care system to have access to. It is also derived from the Madagascar periwinkle, a pretty purple flower. The bacteria E. Coli gave us an enzyme called Asparaginase that is used in the treatment of lymphatic cancers as well as some Mast Cell Tumor protocols.

This is by no means an extensive list of the products that have been developed by people having recognized them in nature as effective, isolated the compound having the desired effect and found a way to make it safer and more readily available to the public. It’s just a series of examples of where a naturally occurring treatment or cure existed and people found a way to bring it to market. If lemon juice or sodium bicarbonate or Himalayan rock salt had healing properties, you can bet that someone would have or would be working on isolating what those properties were, finding a way to mass produce it and get it out into your hands.

The fact that drug companies aren’t pushing the sodium bicarbonate or any other natural product they are likely to be already manufacturing as a treatment for cancer speaks more to the lack of efficacy of any one of these products as a cancer treatment than it does as proof of some global conspiracy to hide the healing power of natural ingredients in a greedy quest for profits.

Thanks for reading.

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