Turning Naturalist

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura (The Philippine Star) - March 31, 2019 - 12:00am

Once, we were a country of herbalists. We are moving back to that, away from Big Pharma and FDA, into the more natural plants that cure and heal us.

I arrived at my dentist’s office a bit early so I looked at her magazine rack. There was a Fortune magazine whose cover caught my eye: Big Pharma Has Struck Out. Could This Radical New Approach to Alzheimer’s Lead to a Breakthrough?

You know about Alzheimer’s and me. My mother died seriously afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. In the beginning I could not explain what was wrong. This was in the 1990s when the world didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s yet, when we were all groping our way to inadequate and painful discoveries.

Since then if I saw a book on Alzheimer’s, I immediately bought and read it. They say it attacks intelligent people, more women than men, and it is hereditary. These points fill me with fear. So when I saw the Fortune magazine, I immediately began to read.

 It introduces 63-year-old Paul Cox who is an ethnobotanist, one who studies the way indigenous people use plants in their customs and diets. Paul Cox seems to have invented something he calls L-serine, “an amino acid that serves critical functions in the central nervous system, among other things.” That sounds vague, doesn’t it? Anyway, it looks like you can buy a kilo of powdered L-serine for $53 on Amazon but if you want a Serine Dipity sweatshirt (pun on serendipity) you have to donate $150,000 to Cox’s lab. The powder is still being tested and in the end we still do not know how well it will work.

Cox is not a scientist but as he studies the ailments of the Chamorro people in Guam, he discovers how they have been poisoning themselves by eating bats boiled in milk. I’m not joking. It’s a delicacy for them. And this makes them sick with something that is similar to Alzheimer’s Disease and ALS. What is ALS? “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease (MND) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a specific disease that causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles.” That was the start of Cox’s journey down this road. Now I know I never should have stopped reading the magazines I loved to read before. They teach you so much.

Initially the Cox budget was small. But slowly he managed to attract around 50 scientists from universities, corporate retirees who see his point, make donations and help with his research. They are making all sorts of progress, which is a lot more than the entity referred to as Big Pharma has done.

What attracts me about this article is that Cox is not a scientist but he is making progress. There is another man I have read about recently, an American, Gary Young, one of a farmer’s six children. He left home, had a near-fatal accident at age 24, that left him partially paralyzed and in excruciating pain. He began research into essential oils and successfully healed himself. He was not a scientist either but he was interested, did research, linked with others with similar interests then set up a business in essential oils called Young Living. It has opened recently in the Philippines. The Philippines also makes a contribution to essential oils from pili nuts.

I am also reminded of my friend, Ramon Tan, who established Carica, offering an assortment of capsules made from our plants. When I first knew him, he showed me the thick black book on our plants in and what they were good for written by a Quisumbing, who I know, was my grandmother’s cousin. Now Carica even has To Die For, a Pinoy Deli that serves the tastiest of foods.

What am I really saying? In a way I think I am seeing a progressive albeit backward movement for us Filipinos away from chemicals towards the naturals or organics. Once, we were a country of herbalists. We are moving back to that, away from Big Pharma and FDA, into the more natural plants that cure and heal us. Away from the big chemical cosmetics into the more natural lines made from plants and minerals. You see it everywhere — from the cover of Fortune to your living room where friends drop in to ask you to sample their organic juice and you do, and you make suggestions.

The last time I went to Tagaytay I bought a plant that they told me was good for diabetes. I have been taking care of it but never tried it. This morning my husband woke up with very high blood sugar. I panicked, went to my porch, took three leaves from the plant that I just found out was called insulin, made him eat the leaves. By noon his blood sugar went down by 100 points. This convinced me that natural things do work, that slowly but surely, we will turn into naturalists (I prefer that word to organics) all over again. Here we are happily returning to the joys of old times.

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