All posts by Guy Murch

Five old remedies that are still healing us today – BBC News

Five old remedies that are still healing us today – BBC News

One of the recent winners of the Nobel Prize for medicine discovered a breakthrough drug after poring over 2,000 ancient herbal recipes.

Dr Tu Youyou’s discovery, the anti-malarial artemisinin, derived from wormwood, is credited with saving millions of lives.

From opium in poppies, to quinine derived from the cinchona tree, to digoxin from foxgloves, there are many gems unearthed from the past that have true testable medical benefits.


Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption A medicinal leech (Hirudo medicinalis)
A medicinal leech, or hirudo medicinalis

In fact, there is now a whole branch of science dedicated to the study of traditional medicine, ethnopharmacology.

But it is not as simple as isolating the

active ingredient from a plant.

Apart from the fact lots of these plants in their raw form are poisonous, making useful drugs for a population requires planning and sufficient raw material.

“We have to develop drug strategies, and considerations of treating large numbers of people have to be taken into account,” Michael Heinrich, professor of pharmacognosy (medicinal plant research) at UCL, says.


Milkweed plant
Image caption Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus)

The white sap from this common weed, also known as petty spurge, was described by Nicolas Culpeper’s Complete Herbalist (1826) as “a good treatment for warts”.

Don’t try this at home, however, as its also an irritant.

Milkweed made its way from its native Europe to Australia, where biochemist Dr Jim Aylward had it in his garden.

“My mum grew it for 20 years and swore by it,” he says.

“She always told me to put it on my skin to help sunspots.”

In 1997, Dr Aylward isolated its active ingredient, ingenol mebutate, which he discovered was toxic to rapidly replicating human tissue.

And recent clinical trials of Picato, a gel derived from milkweed sap, suggest it is effective at stopping lesions turning into skin cancer.


Nurse with jar of leeches Image copyright RIA NOVOSTI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Leeches were one of the more civilised methods of bloodletting, a popular cure for disease.

For the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, any imbalance in the four bodily “humours” (blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm) would cause disease.

And the best way to correct this was to drain the excess – often blood.

Fast-forward to 1830s Europe, and bloodletting was big business.

Use of leeches to treat almost all ailments had reached its peak, with France importing about 40 million every year.

With the rise of “rational” science, and no evidence to back it up, bloodletting died out.

But recent advances in surgery mean leeches are back on the wards.

Hospitals such as UCLH in London use these bloodthirsty worms to drain excess blood after microsurgery, which helps to promote natural healing.

They can be used in postoperative care of skin grafts, or after lost fingers and ears have been reattached.

They produce a protein that stops blood clotting – and this gives tiny veins time to knit themselves back together.

Wales is now the centre for leech therapy and home to a farm supplying tens of thousands of medicinal leeches to hospitals around the world.


Willow tree Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Crack willow tree

Both the Ancient Egyptians and Hipocrates recommended using the bark of a willow tree for pain relief.

Its effectiveness was eventually proven in a study by the Royal Society in 1763.

But it was not until 1915 that drugs giant Bayer started selling it over the counter as aspirin.

It is now the subject of between 700 and 1,000 clinical studies each year.

And recent advances have shown it is far more than just a painkiller.

From reducing the risk of strokes to indications it could help prevent cancer, aspirin is the traditional remedy that keeps on giving.


Snowdrop flowers Image copyright Science Photo Library

Galantamine, derived from snowdrops and now used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, was first investigated by the Soviet Union, – but folk law tells of Bulgarians rubbing the flowers on their forehead to cure headaches.

Prof Heinrich says: “They were almost certainly used in traditional medicine before the Soviet’s started investigating in the 50s.

“Why would you go into your garden and investigate your snowdrops?

“There must have been a reason for them to look at snowdrops in the first place”

‘Cow’s Stomach Juice’

Page from Bald's Leechbook Image copyright The British Library Board, Royal 12.D.XVII, f.53v
Image caption Bald’s Leechbook

A recipe for “eye salve” from 1,000-year-old Anglo-Saxon medical textbook Bald’s Leechbook states onion, garlic, wine and cow’s bile should be crushed together and left in a bronze vessel for nine days and nights.

Now, tests have shown the eye salve kills MRSA in the lab faster than the best antibiotic.

“Anglo-Saxon remedies don’t have the best reputation, but the idea that Anglo-Saxon medicine is superstition has clouded our judgment,” says Dr Christina Lee, associate professor in Viking studies at Nottingham University, who translated the recipe.

“We need to get rid of the whiff of homeopathy and give old remedies the credit they deserve.”


A Sliding Doors moment for the NHS UK?

A Sliding Doors moment for the NHS UK?

Sliding Doors is a film that strikes a chord with many people.

It alternates between two parallel universes based on the two paths the central character’s life could take depending on whether or not she catches a train.

In chaos theory this is known as the butterfly effect, in which a small change at one place can result in large differences in a later state.


Giant NHS Database rollout delay

Giant NHS Database rollout delay

The start of a new NHS data-sharing scheme in England involving medical records is being delayed by six months.

Work to start compiling the largely anonymised records on to the database was meant to start from April.

But NHS England has now decided that will not now happen until the autumn.

The organisation has accepted the communications campaign, which gives people the chance to opt out, needs to be improved.


The Care Bill’s ‘Epic Changes’

The Care Bill’s ‘Epic Changes’

As many of you will be aware, the Care Bill is currently making its way through parliament, and is likely to have a significant impact on the sector. There are a number of issues which have been highlighted regarding the legislation, and with the Bill’s finer points being debated in the committee stage and likely to become law by April, anyone involved with the care sector should be following its progress closely.


Article from Sutton Coldfield Observer

Article from Sutton Coldfield Observer

Work on a new nursing home specialising in end of life care will begin in Sutton Coldfield in the new year.

Birmingham City Council planners have given approval for the 34-bed home which will be built on a derelict site on the edge of Sutton Park.

The facility is being built next to the existing Wyndley Grange nursing home in Somerville Road by care company Homecroft Ltd.


New build project in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham.

New build project in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham.

A West Midlands construction company is celebrating after winning a prestigious contract for a new 34-bed nursing home in Sutton Coldfield.

Massey has begun work on the project after it was given the go-ahead by Birmingham City Council planners, who praised the company for the sensitive design of the new home in Somerville Road.