Thursday, 9 June 2016

Gulbarn Tea: Bush Medicine Gaining Prominence

One of the shortcomings of my naturopathy degree (ie besides the minimal business education) is the almost complete lack of education in indigenous Australian medicine, besides the standard eucalyptus and tea tree, and some mention of lemon myrtle. This is most likely because of minimal scientific research into our native herbs, which is most likely caused by minimal awareness that these plants actually exist. The herbal medicines we do learn about are usually from anywhere but Australia (a friend of mine who told me about this mystery plant doesn't even know its name!).

Fortunately, some more indigenous herbal medicines are gaining sustained awareness, besides one or two news reports saying "X plant may cure X" before disappearing forever, and transforming communities in the process. I am talking specifically about Gulbarn, a bush that grows around Minyerri in the remote Roper region of the Northern Territory, about 580 kilometres southeast of Darwin. In 2013, Samara Billy, a resident of the Minyerri community, was showing representatives from the Enterprise Learning Project around said community in order to get funding for construction of an arts centre. Samara then showed the representatives a Gulbarn bush, and told them how it is traditionally used: as a tea, or a body wash. It is mainly used to soothe coughs and colds, or as Samara said, as a remedy for stress. The lack of caffeine and similar properties and flavanoids as green tea are responsible for its newfound popularity among buyers in Australia and Asia. While nobody was initially interested in using the tea at all, the community is now behind growing the business, with even young children getting involved on packing days and the women (especially Samara) mainly spearheading the business. This success is also now giving others in her community the confidence to come up with other business ideas.

Why is this so important? A deep, unshakable connection to the land means that leaving often very remote areas for work in the cities is not an option for so many indigenous Australians. Frequent lack of support for local businesses leaves indigenous communities with high unemployment and little economic power, which leaves many vulnerable to exploitation and control by government and others, and many turning to crime and substance abuse (did you think unemployment and the resulting dependence was in any way enjoyable?). One way to solve this is by increasing the promotion of, and research into, the native bush medicines, but not without the resulting businesses being run by the indigenous people in that area (who actually know what they're doing with these plants). As native herbal medicines are growing in their ideal environment around here, they are most likely to be producing the optimal profile of medicinal constituents and you probably won't kill them regardless of how terrible your gardening skills are. Medicinal constituents are "secondary metabolites", typically produced more when immediate needs of growth and survival aren't so hard to fulfill. I tried to grow milk thistle, but THE STUPID THING DIED when I was too busy to water it for a day or two.....Australian plants are tougher. Overall, everybody wins when herbal medicines native to Australia are not ignored and are a means to economic empowerment for indigenous Australians.

If you are interested in buying Gulbarn tea, click here. I do not know if this is only available for shipping in Australia or internationally.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Stem Cell Injections May Help Stroke Patients

Patients once left dependent on wheelchairs to get around from suffering strokes are now walking again, since participating in a trial involving stem cell injections into the brain. With 18 patients, this is the second trial to test the effects of stem cell injections on stroke-related disabilities. Patients in the first trial, which was conducted by the UK company ReNeuron, also experienced significant reductions in their disabilities for more than a year after their injections. All patients in this second trial showed improvement, with an average mobility score improvement of 11.4 points, using a 100-point scale where 100 equals full mobility. It may seem small for those of us who haven't met these patients, but was deemed clinically significant for patients. The most dramatic improvements were in walking, communication, hand co-ordination and strength. One woman, who could only move her left thumb at the beginning of the trial, can now walk and lift her arm above her head. These effects wouldn't have happened spontaneously, as all of these patients' progress had plateaued long before the trials began.

Unlike some trials, the stem cells used in this study did not come from the patients, but instead from two donors. These were injected into areas of the brain that typically control motor movements through holes drilled into their skulls (it wouldn't sound so bad if you were paralysed!), at amounts of either 2.5, 5 or 10 million cells. These stem cells are known as mesenchymal stem cells, which come from the bone marrow. While experiments on rats showed that these donor cells disappear in a month, these cells were engineered to possess a gene which activates pro-brain development factors in babies, and so produced growth factors that build connections between brain cells and promote blood vessel growth. The ReNeuron trial used stem cells from aborted foetuses which were grown to produce larger numbers of cells. Both companies are planning further, larger trials, while there are 30 others currently in progress. None have showed results as significant as those where the stem cells are injected right into the brain. In a rare news article speaking positively about international stem cell clinics, it has been reported that former and even current professional athletes are embracing stem cell therapy in order to maintain or regain health. These clinics are often located in Spanish or Russian-speaking countries, such as Mexico and Kazakhstan. It was noted that mesenchymal stem cells have a side-benefit of producing anti-inflammatory and pro-healing chemicals. [Image Source: Nissim Benvenisty/Wikimedia].

So why am I writing about this, besides the fact that I am completely obsessed with stem cells? Natural medicine is being found to have a place in stem cell therapy, as more research is released showing that  natural substances can improve the efficacy of these procedures. In one such study, curcumin (from turmeric) was shown to improve the survival of stem cells transplanted to heal heart tissue. These cells also produced more vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), were less likely to be injured and improved heart function more. In another, a combination of spirulina, blueberry, carnosine, vitamin D3 and green tea increased the growth of neural stem cells and protected them against inflammation-induced destruction. This was inspired by research that showed a reversal of age-related cognitive decline and an increase in brain cell growth in rats after levels of the inflammatory interleukin 1-beta were reduced. Would I like to be involved in stem cell therapy, using natural medicines to improve outcomes and quality of life? Yes!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Graduation and Qualification!

Finally, after four years, I've done it! I have finally finished my degree, a Bachelor of Health Science in Naturopathy! I have made so many friends, learnt so many things, and even self-published a book and started this blog! Years of studying nutrition, herbal medicine, biology,  chemistry, clinical skills and practical training will soon pay off even more for me.

So what am I going to do? I'm going to Europe for a month's holiday next Saturday first, partly to see if I would like to work there or at least have a deeper involvement with the world of health on the continent. Then, it's time to begin the task of setting up clinical practice, which takes time as I first need my transcript to update my association membership, in order to get my insurance and health fund access. I need an account with pathology labs, a dispensary, furniture and a clinic room too. Then there's marketing, I am thankful for all my views and followers but I need better search rankings and visibility, especially here in Australia!

I would love to be antiaging and longevity royalty someday. I am looking at starting a line of skincare products and/or writing more books and even courses. I will probably do clinical practice part time to accommodate these. I want to have a balance between work and fun, so I can travel, dance, be with friends probably don't know that I am a semi professional belly dancer in a troupe! We are the Stars of the Sahara, and becoming more well-known on the Gold Coast. Will I even be able to combine my two passions, using dance or music as therapy? Who knows. I have my role models: that is you, my dance teacher; Angela Counsel; Kathy Wong (Moeloco flip flops); Dr Ursula Jacob; Dr Thomas Vogl; David McLelland and all of my teachers and other friends I have not listed behind me (even the chiropractor I had for over a year, an upstanding example of work/life balance). No one I studied with or under can get too far away from me, all us naturopaths know each other anyway.

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