Power Plants

Power Plants
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Many of the most powerful drugs in modern medicine’s arsenal came from natural products, from penicillin to the chemotherapy agents Taxol® and vincristine.

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Doctors are skeptical of the ability of plant foods to treat disease. We have no problem believing a drug like lovastatin can lower cholesterol, but red yeast rice? Come on! It has been used in Chinese herbal medicine for over a thousand years; but what did they know back in the Tang Dynasty in the year 800?

But guess what’s in red yeast rice? Lovastatin; literally, the exact drug. Instead of us synthesizing it in a lab, some purplish mold synthesizes it on rice, and has since forever. Now, the drug levels in the moldy rice are too variable to be reliable, so I don’t recommend anyone take red yeast rice supplements. I don’t recommend people take lovastatin either; I recommend eating healthy enough that you don’t need either one. But it is an illustration of the power of plants; or in this case, a fungus.

Doctors prescribe diabetes drugs like candy (even though some may increase the risk of heart failure, heart attacks, and death), but at the same time are skeptical that cinnamon could possibly help with blood sugar, because it’s just some dried bark scraped from some tree.

Well, guess what Taxol is—the revolutionary chemotherapy drug that’s routinely used against half a dozen human cancers? It’s some dried bark scraped from the Pacific yew tree. Now, we just grow tree cells in a tank, and make it that way. But originally, they were just scraping thousands of trees.

Still don’t think plants can be powerful? This is where cocaine comes from; morphine. This makes a glaucoma drug; anesthesia; this shrub cures malaria. This is where aspirin came from; digoxin; colchicine; quinine; ipecac. This is where we get a drug to treat emphysema; Alzheimer’s; Parkinson’s. Periwinkle is what we use to treat childhood leukemia, even though on the bottle we call it vincristine.

In the middle ages, they rubbed moldy bread into infected wounds; it was a staple European folk remedy. What quacks! Until a couple hundred years later, when penicillin went on to become the greatest discovery in all of medicine.

Thanks to a moldy cantaloupe found in a market in Peoria, Illinois—no joke—the United States went from having just enough penicillin in 1942 to treat ten people, to two million doses in time for the invasion of Normandy.

Over the last 25 years, about half of new drug discoveries have come from natural products. Plants can powerfully affect our health.

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 MaryAnn Allison.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctors are skeptical of the ability of plant foods to treat disease. We have no problem believing a drug like lovastatin can lower cholesterol, but red yeast rice? Come on! It has been used in Chinese herbal medicine for over a thousand years; but what did they know back in the Tang Dynasty in the year 800?

But guess what’s in red yeast rice? Lovastatin; literally, the exact drug. Instead of us synthesizing it in a lab, some purplish mold synthesizes it on rice, and has since forever. Now, the drug levels in the moldy rice are too variable to be reliable, so I don’t recommend anyone take red yeast rice supplements. I don’t recommend people take lovastatin either; I recommend eating healthy enough that you don’t need either one. But it is an illustration of the power of plants; or in this case, a fungus.

Doctors prescribe diabetes drugs like candy (even though some may increase the risk of heart failure, heart attacks, and death), but at the same time are skeptical that cinnamon could possibly help with blood sugar, because it’s just some dried bark scraped from some tree.

Well, guess what Taxol is—the revolutionary chemotherapy drug that’s routinely used against half a dozen human cancers? It’s some dried bark scraped from the Pacific yew tree. Now, we just grow tree cells in a tank, and make it that way. But originally, they were just scraping thousands of trees.

Still don’t think plants can be powerful? This is where cocaine comes from; morphine. This makes a glaucoma drug; anesthesia; this shrub cures malaria. This is where aspirin came from; digoxin; colchicine; quinine; ipecac. This is where we get a drug to treat emphysema; Alzheimer’s; Parkinson’s. Periwinkle is what we use to treat childhood leukemia, even though on the bottle we call it vincristine.

In the middle ages, they rubbed moldy bread into infected wounds; it was a staple European folk remedy. What quacks! Until a couple hundred years later, when penicillin went on to become the greatest discovery in all of medicine.

Thanks to a moldy cantaloupe found in a market in Peoria, Illinois—no joke—the United States went from having just enough penicillin in 1942 to treat ten people, to two million doses in time for the invasion of Normandy.

Over the last 25 years, about half of new drug discoveries have come from natural products. Plants can powerfully affect our health.

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 MaryAnn Allison.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to RobinFotoosVanRobi, jakobnewman, Angie and Selena N. B. H. via flickr; CatherineMunro, Sten Porse, Zyance, Onderwijsgek, Fabelfroh, BerndH, MichaelMaggs, Polimerek, Lestat via wikimedia; and Forest & Kim Starr. Images have been modified.

Doctor's Note

Be sure to check out my other videos on medications, and don’t miss all my videos on nutrition myths.

Also, check out my associated blog posts for more context: Amla: Indian gooseberries vs. cancer, diabetes, and cholesterolIs Caffeinated Tea Really Dehydrating?Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk Treating PMS with SaffronIncreasing Muscle Strength with Fenugreek; and Cinnamon for Diabetes,

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

24 responses to “Power Plants

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  1. Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check back for the other videos on medications and don’t miss all the videos on nutrition myths. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

  2. Thanks Dr. Greger for another outstanding video. With this fabulous website, you have distinguished yourself as one of the greatest public educators on nutrition!

    Some of those who are intrigued by the topic of this video may also wish to read some of the work of Dr. James Duke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_A._Duke), who has done painstaking work for years to try to tabulate all of the phytochemicals in food plants and herbs. He has written several excellent popular books and has even made his extensive phythochemical database freely available to all (see: http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/).

    1. Dr, Greger, I so appreciate what you do!! You are a wonderful man to share all this helpful information after laboring through all the medical and scientific findings. I look forward to each and every video and presentation you make! Only once was I disappointed when you took the Lord’s name in vain when you were making a strong point but that seemed uncharacteristic of you generally.

      Please know we all applaud you for the excellent work you do for human health, animal welfare, and the environment.

      I have been a vegan for almost two years now in large point because of your educating me. However, never in my life have I had a canker sore until three times over this last year’s period.
      I am 69 years old. I did find one video where you addressed canker sores in the mouth but please if you come across any more information, please would you put that in another video.

      Thank much!! You are the BEST!!!

    1. Standardization would help. However as Dr. Greger mentions the goal is to eat a variety of whole plants, spices and herbs. Supplements are fine but shouldn’t be the focus. Remember the amount of information on antioxidants and good things in foods is changing all the time. Compare what we know now vs what we knew in 1980 and imagine what we will learn in the next decades. While it is interesting and useful to look at the science and let it guide us we have to remember that we are dealing with complicated metabolic processes performing in complex/adaptive systems so the science should be taken with a grain of salt. In the meantime keep up with the latest in nutrition by staying tuned to Nutritionfacts.org.

  3. Great video. There are many claims of exotic animal products too (bear bile, fermented snakes, etc) that we’d like to believe have no merit to them, due to the dismal treatment of animals, and effects of species elimination, in this trade. Are there any studies you know of to support or refute these kinds of treatments?

    1. If it would save my life, I would refuse to use bear bile. Terrible thing to do a wild, freedom-loving animal. God help us please and soon.

  4. Wouldn’t it be interesting and possibly important to understand the reasons these plant secondary metabolites are useful as medications in humans?  What is the function they have in the plants that make them? Perhaps if we knew that analogue we could better search for new medications or, better, know what whole plant foods to include in our dietary mix to avoid developing certain diseases.

  5. Is there any evidence on the effectiveness of Pacific Yew tea (made sustainably from the leaves of that Yew tree, not the bark) in treating or reversing cancers?

  6. Dear Dr. Greger,
    Is there a natural plant based remedy for the fungus that lives under people’s toe nail? Is there any plant based way to strengthen the body to fight off such an attack? I have read that the fungus is athlete’s foot fungus that is present everywhere and that sometimes it gets under a toenail if the bodies ability to fight infection is compromised? Is there a way to prevent this by eating certain plants?
    Thank you for all you do to help so many!!!
    Dawn

    1. Dear Dawn,

      Great question i have athlete’s foot fungus under my right little toe.

      Hope someone can reply to us about this.

      Thank you and much appreciated.

      Tim

  7. There are contradicting articles and studies about Red Yeast Rice and its side effects nowadays. It would be interesting if you could review this topic since there are new studies out by now. I found a couple of them that claim red yeast rice has no side effects causing liver damage or muscle problems. While another study showed an association between those side effects and red yeast rice.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28749884/?i=1&from=red%20yeast%20rice
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28521773/?i=12&from=red%20yeast%20rice
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28093797/?i=22&from=red%20yeast%20rice

  8. Example: Theophylline (asthma drug I was raised on and still used) vrs theobromine (found in cacao). It dawned on me several years ago – the former one mimics the other. I tried biting a piece of pure cacao disk (made at home from the beans) when I felt the first symptom of an attack (a tickly itch under the chin) and the attack never materialized. It almost always worked! My friends tried it and reported it worked. Expensive 85%, zero dairy commercial chocolate or baking chocolate also works, but you must catch it in the earliest of beginnings.

  9. I’m really curious about whether any plants specifically or a WFPB diet can in any way heal a ganglion. A MRI scan shows I’ve got a “complex intra-muscular ganglion within the anterior compartment of the lower leg arising from the proximal tibiofibular joint”. Doctors at my hospital says its incurable and likely to get worse with time affecting ability to walk normally because it is located behind nerves which will end up getting damaged as it grows. They also say there is literally nothing I can do to help support any healing process. I keep thinking of Dr Gregor saying the body heals itself if we allow it to through good nutrition. I’d love to know if there is anything I can do.

  10. Dear Doctor Greger,
    I am searching your site but I do not find any video that could answer my questions and I do not know if this is the right place to ask them.
    When I was a child, I was compelled to reside in Central Africa because my father was a scientific researcher there (zoologist). For eight years, I had an intense malaria crisis about every three months and and high fevers about every three weeks. No doctor could explain how I survived this until my mother got mad because my life mattered for her and circumstances were favourable as my father was invited to become a professor and scientific researcher in a Canadian university. Since then, the doctors have told me that my liver is weak and studded with “traces” of malaria but they can’t do anything about it. I fear it might turn to cancer. Can you give me any nutrition advice(s) to, at least, keep this under control, if not heal it?

  11. As a nurse I am concerned that you do not seem clear either on your diagnosis and on your treatment plan or why your medical team is not recommending a treatment plan. Although your case may be complex you have a right and a need to understand your diagnosis. Take a knowledgeable friend/family/family member with to your next dr’s visit (or schedule one) and have your questions written down. If you do not understand, ask for further explanation of exactly what your malarial risks are now and if there is any basis for concern about development of cancer. There may not be and you may be worrying needlessly. Ask to be referred to an infectious disease doctor or malaria specialist if you are not satisfied or still do not understand.
    As far as diet, Dr. Greger actually has produced several videos on diet especially “AGE” which appear to affect one’s risk for malaria, although I’m not sure that is the same as the possibility of increasing complications from an earlier diagnosis. Here’s one article which discusses diet and malaria, although you are not likely to find any specific food to eat dealing with specific malarial risk. It’s more likely you are going to find some foods which negatively affect your overall immunity which may be more what you need to focus on. Here’s the article you may want to review and perhaps discuss with your doctor) and then please review several of these NFO videos, so you can keep your immune system as healthy as possible and avoid AGEs:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27012162 Do advanced glycation end-products play a role in malaria susceptibility?“Since inflammatory immune responses and oxidative events have been demonstrated as the hallmark of malaria infection, it seems crucial to investigate the role of AGE in susceptibility or resistance to malaria. This review provides new insight into the relationship between nutrition, metabolic disorders, and infections, and how this may influence the mechanisms of susceptibility or resistance to malaria in endemic areas.
    NFO information/ videos on immunity: https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/immune-function/
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-fiber-an-effective-anti-inflammatory/
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/microbiome-we-are-what-they-eat/
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-to-boost-your-immune-system-with-wakame-seaweed/
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/benefits-of-green-tea-for-boosting-antiviral-immune-function/
    https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/ages/
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/avoiding-a-sugary-grave/
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/glycotoxins/
    I hope the above videos will encourage you to seriously protect your immune system, considering your complex medical history and you get the answers you need to keep yourself in the best of health.

  12. My LDL refuses to go below 100, even 3 years on WFBNO. I am normal BMI, non-smoker, healthy, extremely active (exercise almost daily, somethimes with a 3-5 hour bike ride or hike). I even tried a kiwi trial (no impact). Yes, it is clearly genetic. I would like to try RYR for a few weeks, and retest. (monitoring side effects of course). Unless, you have another suggestion.

  13. Maybe. Keep in mind that WFPB means “No Oil” already because oil is not a whole food. If you are eating a truly unprocessed low fat diet: minimal avocados, minimal nuts and seeds, no blenders or grinders of any type, so that you’re just eating farm to mouth, then you could be the 1:250 to 1:500 of the general population that has Familial Hypercholesterolemia. More on it here: https://ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/circulationaha.115.018791.
    Most of the time though, our patients are eating things like whole grain bread, juice and smoothies which can adversely affect the lipid profile without much genetic involvement.

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