Medicine in the raw
November 30th 2010, 11:09
Our dog Ollie, as a small, tricolored Cavalier King Charles spaniel, was bred by royal decree and born with a peculiar sense of regal entitlement and a permanent look of disdain. He belongs in a Peanuts cartoon-the curmudgeonly dog whose thought balloon continuously registers exasperation with his clueless owners. He refuses to eat except when it's inconvenient, and is extraordinarily picky, even when fresh organic meat is his for the taking.
Consequently, it's fascinating to see what Ollie eats in the wild, especially when he's out of sorts. Invariably, he heads for certain grasses or leaves and, after feasting on bunches of them, is completely cured.
Animal behaviourists realize that animals, across species, appear to have a natural instinct for determining which plants can heal different diseases. Stories abound of animals eating just the right things to heal themselves. After witnessing sick bears eating Ligusticum roots and getting better afterwards, Native Americans dubbed the plants with a name that means 'bear medicine'.
In her book, Wild Health, animal behaviorist Cindy Engel offers scientific evidence that animals instinctively know how to maintain optimum health. Given a smorgasbord of choice, even animals like rats will choose a nutritionally balanced diet.
Perhaps more extraordinary is the evidence that animals know how to self-medicate against a host of problems, including parasites, infection, skin conditions and accidental poisoning. Scientific evidence shows that animals are somehow able to differentiate among the thousands of toxic secondary compounds in plants that kill internal parasites. A number of species, including rhinoceroses and wild bison, feast on a specific bark known to be toxic to the microbes that cause dysentery.
Even animals in captivity often show a native sense of self-medication superior to their doctors. A captive capuchin monkey with a severe skin infection didn't get better until given access to tobacco leaves, which cured its skin condition permanently.
All this is relevant to two features in this month's issue. In our Special Report (pp 10-4), WDDTY publisher Bryan Hubbard has amassed extra-ordinary evidence that the contents of your fridge or larder not only can protect against illness, but may also cure disease once it takes hold. Cancer, asthma, Alzheimer's, dementia-and a host of other serious and even life-threatening illness-is vanquished by the likes of apple juice, rhubarb, brussels sprouts and blueberries.
Yet, we're eating less and less real food (p 5). A team that recently analyzed McDonald's Chicken McNuggets found that barely half of it is chicken-the rest is taste enhancers and other chemicals, including a compound used in Silly Putty and another used in lighter fluid.
The medicine we take is also increasingly dangerous, even contaminated, as was the case of millions of drugs produced by GSK, for which it has been fined by the American Food and Drug Administration (p 6).
Considering an animal's natural instinct for the healthy, one wonders what animals like Ollie would make of our tendency to consume toxic junk as food and toxic chemicals as medicine.