Magic Bullets vs. Promiscuous Plants

Magic Bullets vs. Promiscuous Plants
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The pharmaceutical industry is starting to shift away from designing single target drugs to trying to affect multiple pathways simultaneously, much like compounds made by plants, such as aspirin and curcumin—the pigment in the spice turmeric.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“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 more complicated than 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 have been developed to target a specific molecule for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, for example, but they have all failed. That’s why drug companies are now working on so-called “promiscuous drugs” that try to simultaneously 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 injury 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 a petri dish, though? “[P]romising 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, “[t]urmeric 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 dollars. 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 bullets have…been largely unsuccessful,” they just propose creating “non-selective drugs.” Instead of magic bullets, in effect, “magic shotguns.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Greg McMullin and The Knowles Gallery via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“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 more complicated than 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 have been developed to target a specific molecule for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, for example, but they have all failed. That’s why drug companies are now working on so-called “promiscuous drugs” that try to simultaneously 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 injury 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 a petri dish, though? “[P]romising 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, “[t]urmeric 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 dollars. 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 bullets have…been largely unsuccessful,” they just propose creating “non-selective drugs.” Instead of magic bullets, in effect, “magic shotguns.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Greg McMullin and The Knowles Gallery via flickr

Doctor's Note

For more detail about the Catch-22, see Plants as Intellectual Property – Patently Wrong?

Aspirin isn’t found only in willow tree bark, but throughout the plant kingdom—including fruits and vegetables; see Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods.

Here’s the video about the green tea story: Treating Genital Warts with Green Tea. And, if you think that’s neat, check out Treating Gorlin Syndrome with Green Tea.

Power Plants shows how plant foods are not to be underestimated.

More on turmeric and inflammation here:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

31 responses to “Magic Bullets vs. Promiscuous Plants

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  1. Does anyone know if B12 supplements loose their viability when taken with food? Does the stomach and digestion degrade the B12 in any way? Have studies conclusively shown how digestion of food effects B12 supplements, and are certain foods (either protein, carbs, fruit, etc.) more or less friendly to B12 assimilation? I’ve heard acid/alkaline stomach amounts can have an effect on B12. Sublingual is an option but would rather go another route.

      1. Thanks. I’ve heard that the antibiotic properties of onions and garlic (and possibly other anti-bacterial spices and herbs) can destroy B12 supplements. Sounds correct in theory, but have not seen the studies on this.

        1. Intuitively speaking, if garlic and onions and spices or a problem for B12, most of the worlds population would be B12 deficient. Especially in the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, India, and South and Central America. Does that make sense? ;-)

          1. Yes, good point. Yet, people of the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia eat a decent amount of fish, and the Mediterranean population isn’t shy of dairy. And the South and Central Americans eat their poultry and fish.

            I just wonder if the B12 in supplements is adversely/detrimentally effected by anti-biotic spices and herbs in a manner that the B12 found naturally in food is not? I doubt these populations you have listed are maintaining B12 status on a supplement. In the big picture, B12 pills are new to the show.

            Who knows, just exploring this, as I’ve heard several ideas and theories on this in the past.

            1. I’m not aware of any chemical which can destroy Vitamin B12. The vitamin is bound to proteins in the diet and instrinsic factor is required to break the bond and release the vitamin. This is one reason proton pump inhibitors which reduce stomach acid can cause a problem. The interfere with that bond-breaking, not destroying the vitamin.

              Whether there is any other problem which can interfere with absorption into the bloodstream, injections can bypass any other issues as Adrien mentions below.

              1. Nitrous Oxide (N2O), which is not be confused with Nitric Oxide (NO), is a very potent oxidizer of vitamin B12 and can deplete the body’s store very efficiently. It’s a very common anesthetic agent used millions of times a year to reduce pain and to sedate patients during surgical and dental procedures. It’s also called “laughing gas”, because of its well-known ability to make you feel giggly, an effect that makes it a popular drug of abuse. It’s very dangerous for people with undiagnosed B12 deficiency. Even basics chirurgical procedure can turn deadly, if one isn’t able to restore it’s store. “Could it be B12 ?” it’s a very good book to read. You’ll learn that B12 deficiency can strike almost anybody. And worst than that, it’s the fact that it’s often misdiagnosed as neurological disease such as Alzheimer or Multiple Sclerosis…

    1. The best route is Intramuscular injection (IM), it’s the most radical and efficient way to correct B12 deficiency. It bypass completly anykind of absorption problem that’s why doctor use this way to treat a deficiency. You have to learn how to do it from a real physician if you plan to do it by yourself, don’t do it without a proper training. But It’s not difficult, B12 deficient kids can learn to do it by themselve, when they have intrinsic factor deficiency. Just NEVER use cyanocobalamin if you have Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). Prefer Hydroxocobalamin or Methylcobalamin, they seems to have a better retention and efficacy, specially when it comes to B12 injection.

      “The initial retention of hydroxocobalamin is better than that of cyanocobalamin; twenty-eight day after injection, retention still is nearly three times greater. In addition, hydroxocobalamin is more available to cells and is processed more efficiently by them.”

      Lee, G. R. Pernicious anemia and other causes of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency. In G. R. Lee (10th Ed.), Wintrobe’s Clinical Hematology, (pp. 941-948). 1999, Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

      If you want to know more about B12 and B12 deficiency. You must read “Could it be B12” by Sally Pacholok. I personnaly just follow the Dr Greger recommandation. Please type B12 in the search bar on NutritionFacts.org and watch all the video related to B12.

    2. As is described on this website, which you would have found with a little searching: There are very cheap pills and you should let them melt under your tongue.

  2. Hello!
    My husband is suffering from chronic kidney disease ; stage 4 and due to the side effects of steroids he has hip avascular necrosis . We visited couple of specialist and everyone said that in future he’ll need hip replacement. They said there is no medication for this. We are really worried about his hip as he has pain in his hip joint all the time. He can’t walk properly. It is really stressful to have chronic kidney disease & avascular necrosis on top of it. Any suggestion will be helpful for us.
    Thanks

    1. I’m sorry I have no suggestions, but just wanted you to know that I’m sending Good Vibes to both you and your husband. I hope you will be guided to the help you need.

    2. OK, I’ll say it … Have you searched through the relevant vids and blog entries here? They will help clear up the confusion about what actual nutrition really is.

      Have you both watched “Forks over Knives”? Read the China Study and look into McDougall, Esselstyn and their compadre’s programs.

      Focus on low inflammation, high antioxidant meals. Cold-brewed green tea, again.. review the exisiting library here. Can he get into a pool?

      No processed foods includes sugar, oil and refined flours. Find a real Dr. And ask your exisiting medical professionals why the heck they have not already given him these suggestions.

      It is not too late. You should throw away all of your processed foods, eat whole plant foods for 3 weeks. If you arent convinced by then …well I think you should decide then. Until then just do it. Best wishes. There, I just said a prayer for you …and I’m a darned atheis.

      1. About the major WFPB programs, I’d add that John McDougall refers a lot to the rice diet (once the basis for a program run in connection with Duke university) as, in his view, probably the best diet for people with severe kidney disease. The rough idea is that when the kidneys are very compromised, you heal best by minimizing the load on them as much as possible. Being, in its traditional form, rinsed white rice, fruit, and fruit juice, the diet is very low in protein, salt, and other things that are metabolized to waste by the liver and then filtered through the kidneys. The diet is also probably non-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure, and helps induce weight loss if that is part of the overall picture of ill-health. You may want to contact your doctor about trying out this sort of idea in order to help induce a better prognosis. Some professional monitoring is especially important in order to optimally and safely follow such a restricted dietary plan for a person who is genuinely sick.

        1. Thank you Largelytrue for the suggestions. Basically we are eating green vegetables and white boiled rice and minimal of chicken Brest & egg. Lot of fruits like grapes, cucumber, apples, strawberries. My husband eats home cooked food only and no salt or sometimes very little. Actually we are worried about his leg too. Thank you for the advice.

      2. Thank you so much Gertrude . We have been eating basically vegetables & white boiled rice only. Minimal of meat & egg and lots of fruits. We’ll check the blogs u have recommended . Actually I do a lot of research & only hope now is eating healthy as u said. Thanks for the prayers.

        1. “Minimal of meat and eggs…” I hope that works for you. I eventually lowered my animal consumption and finally got it down to one 3 3/4 ounce tin of sardines a week resulting in NO CHANGE in my health. Then I gave up the last vestige of animal products and my weight dropped 25 pounds; I found myself sleeping uninterrupted through the night; my joints felt less achy; I felt less depressed and more energetic and cheerful; my bowel problems cleared up and I now rarely catch colds. I can’t explain it, but just an average of half an ounce of fish a day kept me from experiencing the health benefits of a WFPB diet. Also… I believe Dr. McDougall recommends brown rice.

  3. Biology is very complex. One disease, one cause, one (chemical or surgical) solution, targeting one pathway is naive. Thats why food as medicine are so fascinating. To make it even more complex – the relation between the doctor and the patient also cures. The most fascinating molecules you find in nature: Aspirin, curcumin, resveratrol – all targeting multiple pathways. Think of cardiovascular disease – the risk factors are hypertension, diabetes, stress, high cholesterol, smoking, age, gender, genetics, social status, obesity, lack of exercise, hyperhomocysteinemia, race, balance between testosterone and estrogen, marital status, alcohol, hostility, sleep etc. Does anyone really believe that the solution is a statin drug!? I dont…..

    1. Incredibly complex may be an understatement – everything has to go through the gut bacteria which holds 99% of your DNA and 90% of the cells in your body with thousands of different enzymes all with forward and reverse feedback loops. Whole foods come with a wide variety of biologically active compounds – not inerts – is it any surprise that the single-compound extracts don’t work nearly as well as the foods they are found in, or worse turn out to actually be unhealthy.

  4. I have switched to being vegetarian since 2 months. After watching your videos, and reading Campbell, Esselstyn, McDougall the switch was easy. However I have always loved starch – i.e. bread, pasta (all mostly whole wheat, rarely processed) and I literally feel my brain needs it. My issue is that I am schizophrenic due to various life events. I wanted to know is there latest research about the schizophrenia – gluten/starch connection and is there any special diet for schizophrenics? There are some studies on a ketogenic diet which show successes, but how can this be achieved with a plant based diet? ( http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/6/1/10 ) What diet would you recommend for mental illnesses in general? For example EPAs in Omega3?

    1. I beg you, stop eating all gluten grains. Dr. McDougall claims on his website that wheat/gluten have been shown to cause schizophrenia/mental illness. There are countless amounts of people who have had some degree of relief abstaining from gluten.

      Also, give a six-month try on a vegan-version of the SCD diet. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Google it, trust it, don’t cheat. This diet works miracles for many people, in many areas. Digestion wise it has been a blessing for me. It has been claimed that the gut is the foundation for lots of diseases.

      Please, abstain from all grains, most beans, no corn, and find a good list of SCD permissible vegan foods. Lots of raw fruit, veggies, black beans, nuts, seeds. B12.

        1. Actually, he does make a claim on his website that gluten has been known to be a causative factor in mental illness. And one can be a thriving, healthy vegan without eating any grains, and only choosing to eat certain beans. Actually, there are lots of vegans who avoid all grains and all beans, and seem to do fine. Grains are not needed to be a vegan. Neither is soy.

          “A serious psychological disease caused by foods in some people is schizophrenia. In hospital-based studies, some patients have been identified who react with dramatic behavioral changes to milk products and high-gluten foods (like wheat, barley, and rye). Some people with schizophrenia have actually been cured of their disease by changing their diet, to eliminate the trouble-making foodstuff.”

          -Dr. McDougall

          1. I found the quote you speak of, but that is not the dietary recommendation he makes.
            http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013nl/mar/gluten.htm

            I am intimately familiar with his dietary protocol and he recommends avoiding gluten (along with many other foods) and slowly reintroducing them when someone is having an unusual reaction to food.

            I recommend you view the links I posted in my last comment.

    2. http://www.drmcdougall.com/health/education/health-science/common-health-problems/depression-and-anxiety/

      Read the whole page, all the way down.

      You do not need grains and soy to be a healthy vegan.

      Reach out to some vegan support groups and seek vegans who have thrived without any grains. SCD diet, vegan version of it. This includes lentils and black beans, and some other beans, for protein. Tons of veggies….a buffet of fruit, some seeds and nuts.

  5. We know most, if not all—drugs have one or many side effects. But why?
    If drugs are like magic bullets, they must target only one pathway of
    metabolism.

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