Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

"New" Drugs, Ancient Uses; What Chemists Can Learn From The Past

Date:
April 3, 2000
Source:
North Carolina State University
Summary:
Can modern medicine learn new tricks from ancient history? Conventional wisdom generally says no, but a North Carolina State University professor believes otherwise -- and he has proof to back his claim. He says a greater knowledge of, and critical appreciation for, ancient medicine could provide modern doctors with alternative ways of treating diseases, and help them identify and label potential dangers and side effects from "new" drugs and herbal supplements.

Can modern medicine learn new tricks from ancient history? Conventional wisdom generally says no, but a North Carolina State University professor believes otherwise -- and he has proof to back his claim.

Related Articles


Dr. John Riddle, professor of history at NC State and an expert on the historic use of medicines derived from plants, will present his findings today, March 30, at the 219th American Chemical Society (ACS) Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

He says a greater knowledge of, and critical appreciation for, ancient medicine could provide modern doctors with alternative ways of treating diseases, and help them identify and label potential dangers and side effects from "new" drugs and herbal supplements.

He points to St. John’s wort, one of the most popular herbal supplements used today, as an example.

Though now most commonly taken for depression, St. John’s wort was first used in 800 A.D. as an antiseptic to treat wounds and as a treatment for bladder problems. Riddle’s studies revealed that it also sometimes caused miscarriages; in fact, ancient literature makes several references to the herb’s abortifacient effects. However, none of this was mentioned in modern literature about St. John’s wort prior to 1998. Based on Riddle’s research, manufacturers began labeling their bottles, warning pregnant women not to take the supplement.

"No one believes that the pre-modern world could possibly have any insight into science that modern science doesn’t already know," says Riddle, whose ACS presentation closely examines the historic use of botanicals -- plant-derived medicines -- that affect the endocrine system. Learning how a botanical was used in the past could give pharmaceutical chemists important clues about its unforeseen side effects and alternative uses, he says. "Yet I don’t know of any chemists who begin a study with (a review of) the history of a compound."

Retrospective discovery can be a useful tool, Riddle believes, because although new drugs are tested for short-term safety for a prescribed use, drugs used as folk medicine over a long time can provide a living laboratory about safety and efficacy, often for various uses.

The drug Finasteride is a case in point. It was initially marketed by Merck under the brand name Proscar as a treatment for prostate problems in older men. When the company discovered, after more research, that Finasteride also promoted hair growth in men, it lowered the dosage and began marketing the drug as Propecia.

"A similar compound is freely available in saw palmetto and nettle," Riddle says. "The ancients took it for urinary problems and to promote hair growth. So Merck need not have done all that research." They could have told from reviewing the drug’s history that the compound has alternative uses.

The stories of Propecia and St. John’s wort demonstrate how Western culture has turned its back on ancient medicine, Riddle says. He places some of the blame on the development of universities as the centers for institutional learning. "The academic community disdained folk knowledge and would not incorporate its learning within its body of things to know," he says. Chinese and Islamic cultures, Riddle adds, never developed this distrust.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization made up of nearly 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers around the world.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by North Carolina State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

North Carolina State University. ""New" Drugs, Ancient Uses; What Chemists Can Learn From The Past." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 April 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000331083206.htm>.
North Carolina State University. (2000, April 3). "New" Drugs, Ancient Uses; What Chemists Can Learn From The Past. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000331083206.htm
North Carolina State University. ""New" Drugs, Ancient Uses; What Chemists Can Learn From The Past." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000331083206.htm (accessed January 30, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, January 30, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Oxfam Calls for Massive Aid for Ebola-Hit West Africa

Oxfam Calls for Massive Aid for Ebola-Hit West Africa

AFP (Jan. 29, 2015) Oxfam International has called for a multi-million dollar post-Ebola "Marshall Plan", with financial support given by wealthy countries, to help Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to recover. Duration: 01:10 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are We Winning The Fight Against Ebola?

Are We Winning The Fight Against Ebola?

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) The World Health Organization announced the fight against Ebola has entered its second phase as the number of cases per week has steadily dropped. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Calif. Health Officials Campaign Against E-Cigarettes

Calif. Health Officials Campaign Against E-Cigarettes

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) The California Health Department says e-cigarettes are a public health risk for both smokers and those who inhale e-cig smoke secondhand. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Measles Scare Sends 66 Calif. Students Home

Measles Scare Sends 66 Calif. Students Home

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) Officials say 66 students at a Southern California high school have been told to stay home through the end of next week because they may have been exposed to measles and are not vaccinated. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins