Milwaukee Edition

Nature’s Remedies

How Animals Self-Medicate

Susan Schmitz/Shutterstock.com

Every species embodies a solution to some environmental challenge, and some of these solutions are breathtaking in their elegance.

~Linda Bender, Animal Wisdom: Learning from the Spiritual Lives of Animals
 

From birds and elephants to dolphins, animals, whether by instinct or learned behavior, have discovered ways to cope with parasites, pests, aches and pains. This science of self-medication is called zoopharmacognosy (zoo for animal, pharma for drug and cognosy for knowing). At home, a dog or cat that eats grass is practicing it to eliminate parasites or hairballs.

Donald Brightsmith, Ph.D., of Texas A&M University, directs the Tambopata Macaw Project in the lowlands of southeastern Peru, studying the many macaws and other parrots that gather clay to eat as a supplement. First thought to help remove toxins from their bodies, clay adds needed sodium to their diet, researchers now believe.

A pregnant elephant in Kenya’s Tsavo Park was observed by ecologist Holly Dublin, Ph.D., to travel miles to find a tree not normally eaten. Four days later, the elephant gave birth. Dublin discovered that Kenyan women make a drink from the same leaves and bark to induce labor.

While studying Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) in the Sabangau peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, primatologist Helen Morrogh-Bernard, Ph.D., of the University of Exeter, UK, observed an orangutan chew the leaves of a plant that were not part of its usual diet until it formed a lather. The orangutan spit out the leaves and used the lather much like humans apply a topical pain reliever.

While animals have been known to eat certain plants when ill, hers may be the first sighting of an animal creating a salve. Nearby villagers grind the leaves to make a balm for sore muscles and inflammation. Morrogh-Bernard believes humans learned this topical application from apes and passed it down through the generations.

In the Red Sea, bottlenose dolphins rub against bush-like gorgonian corals covered by an outer layer of antimicrobial mucus that may protect them from infection, according to dolphin researcher Angela Ziltener, of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

“It’s amazing how much we’ve learned, but forgotten,” says Ira Pastor, CEO at Bioquark Inc., in Philadelphia, a life sciences company developing biologic products to regenerate and repair human organs and tissues. “We live with other organisms which from a health and wellness perspective are much further advanced than humans. No other species tries to cure with any single solution. Nature employs multiple options. We’re not appropriately imitating nature yet. We need to do more.”

We feel the answers for the future will be found in the past, not in chemical factories.
~Ira Pastor

Cindy Engel, Ph.D., of Suffolk, England, author of Wild Health: Lessons in Natural Wellness from the Animal Kingdom, says, “Animals rely on plants to provide them with the essentials of life, making their health intimately dependent on plant chemistry to provide everything they need to grow, repair damage and reproduce.”

She continues, “Wild animals carry diseases that affect livestock and humans. It’s sensible to explore why they’re successful in fending off the worst effects in order to find ways to improve our own health, instead of just trying to eradicate the disease. We can learn from behavioral self-help strategies animals employ.” Accomplishing this is more difficult than ever, she believes, because today’s severely shrinking habitat makes it hard to find truly wild animals and plants.

“Over the last 100 years, we’ve done a horrible disservice to all life by destroying habitat and exploring only a small percentage of what nature has to offer,” agrees Pastor. “As patents expire, pharma has to change. It’s important to develop botanicals. We’re advised to vary our diet and exercise, yet take the same dose of the same pill daily. We’ve studied dead organisms under microscopes, but living organisms, even as small as microbes, can communicate helpful positive reactions.”

Western medicine has strayed from what nature offers to keep us healthy. Now is the time to take care of both the planet and all living beings on it. “We’ve discarded thousands of years of evidence,” says Pastor. “We cannot destroy the bounty of possibilities.”


Connect with freelance writer Sandra Murphy at StLouisFreelanceWriter@mindspring.com.


This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Cedarburg Garden Walk Showcases Stunning Landscapes

The 10th annual Cedarburg Garden Walk, sponsored by the Cedarburg Woman’s Club, takes place this year from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 14 and 15.

Childhood is a Verb! Promotes Natural Childhood for Children

The book comes in two versions: the whole book, with black-and-white illustrations; and a condensed version with color illustrations and a short summary of the full content.

New Solar and Electric Vehicle Charging and Training Facility in Wisconsin

The lab is designed to charge electric vehicles and provide hands-on training at MREA’s headquarters in Custer, Wisconsin.

Be Reiki Expands Services in New Location

Healing arts practitioner Rhiana Tehan, of Be Reiki, has opened a new, larger energy healing facility located at 3082 Main Street, in East Troy.

Letter from Publisher

Wisconsinites are fortunate to have an abundance of local, organically grown choices. In its 2017 organic agriculture status report, the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems reported that, nationally, Wisconsin is second only to California in the overall number of organic farms and in the number of farms adding organic acres.

New Berlin Chiropractor 
Offers a Comprehensive 
Approach to Wellness

Dr. Eliesha Evans, of Evans Chiropractic & Pain Relief Laser Clinic, has a steadfast determination to help her patients get well.

Warming Planet Will Worsen Sleep

Rising temperatures could cause six additional nights of poor sleep per 100 people by 2050 and 14 by 2099, say scientists.

Exercise Benefits Cancer Survivors

Breast cancer survivors that regularly perform moderate-to-vigorous physical activity show improved attention, memory and multitasking abilities.

Eating Apples and Tomatoes Repairs Lungs

Fresh tomatoes and fruit, especially apples, help heal damaged lungs of ex-smokers and can slow the natural decline of lung function that typically occurs after age 30.

Steam Baths Ease Allergies

Thais with hay fever that soaked in half-hour steam baths three times a week reported fewer symptoms such as sneezing, nasal itching and congestion.

Bee Venom Is Powerful Lyme Disease Remedy

Bee venom reduces the Lyme disease bacterium more effectively than antibiotics, reports the Lyme Disease Research Group, in Connecticut.

Walking Speed May Predict Dementia

Seniors whose walking slowed by as little as 0.1 percent a year were 47 percent more likely to decline cognitively.

Add your comment: