Transcript: Magic Bullets vs. Promiscuous Plants
During the last decade, the drug industry has followed an assumption that a single drug hitting a single target was the 'rational' way to design drugs, but we're learning that Mother Nature may be a bit too complicated for that. Strategies for targeting single genes or proteins ignore a very important fact that the most, if not all of diseases, involve a sophisticated network system. For example, one little family of immune molecules involves like 50 different keys fitting in 20 different locks, often acting with redundancy, thus making selection of an appropriate specific drug to antagonize one key or one lock may not work in the long run. A whole list of agents has been developed to target a specific molecule for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, for example, but they have all flopped. That's why drug companies are now working on so-called promiscuous drugs that try to simultaneous affect multiple pathways.
Meanwhile, since ancient times, natural agents derived from plants—fruits, vegetables, spices, beans, and grains—have been preferred as potential therapeutics for most chronic diseases, not only because of their safety, affordability, and long-term use, but for their ability to target multiple cell signaling pathways. This promiscuous targeting of a disease cell’s multiple bypass mechanisms is a therapeutic virtue.
One example of a successful promiscuous plant-based drug is aspirin. It doesn't just target inflammation and offer pain relief, but can act as a blood thinner, and help prevent preeclampsia and even some types of cancer. Curcumin is another hopeful. Aspirin is an extract of the willow tree bark; curcumin is an extract of turmeric root. It's considered so anti-inflammatory that it may even work through the skin--a traditional use was to wrap sprains and injuries with turmeric soaked poultices, a use that actually continues to this day. It is so anti-inflammatory; it can help counter the effects of mustard gas.
Here is the response of spleen cells to an inflammatory cytokine, extinguished in the presence of curcumin. What about outside of the petri dish? Promising effects have been observed in patients with a variety of inflammatory diseases, And one of the reasons there may be such a wide margin of safety with turmeric despite its powerful pharmacological effects, is that the same pathway promiscuity that may account for its effectiveness may also act synergistically to neutralize side-effects. For example, turmeric has been traditionally used as a bronchodilator to open airways in conditions like asthma. Many of the adrenaline-like drugs that do the same thing can raise blood pressure, but the reason turmeric doesn't may be because it has different components with opposing activities, so has like calcium channel blocking effects that may actually lower blood pressure at the same time, and so side effects may cancel each other out.
This strength in promiscuity, though, is also a weakness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been reluctant to approve plant extracts, which by definition are composed of mixtures of different compounds. So it's like a Catch-22. One drug, one chemical, one mechanism of action and you can patent it, get FDA approval and make a billion off it, but it may just not work very well. On the other hand there might be a safe, natural alternative that works better, but industry and the government may not be interested.
However, there is hope on the horizon. Remember this video? The FDA approved a green tea ointment as a prescription drug for the treatment of genital warts, making it the first prescription plant approved in the United States.
So have drug companies abandoned their model and started pouring money into plants? No. Having discovered that so-called magic bullet has been largely unsuccessful, they just propose creating non-selective drugs. Instead of magic bullets in effect, magic shotguns.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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