Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Dying CureTreasures of the Rainforests

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Imagine one your close friends that you grew up with came to your house one day in tears. You quickly grab a box of Kleenex and have her sit down. She takes a few moments to gather herself up and the she hits you with the news. She has cancer. Your jaw drops. Someone that you love as a sister has been diagnosed with a serious degree of cancer that could kill her any day. How could she have it? She was a star athlete and never did any drugs. She was in perfect health with the exception of this. You quickly think about how you can get rid of it. You’re mind just draws a blank. Millions of dollars are spent each year for research for cancer but yet no cure has been found. Little to your knowledge, did you know that there might be a solution to our problem. The answer may lie within the tropical regions of the world, in the Rainforest. It’s a place that holds many mysterious and a region of the world that contains things man has yet to discover. However, despite it’s great potential humans are still destroying it. The Rainforest has “some of the most abundant and diverse plant and animal life seen anywhere on earth.” (RHP) This paper will allow you reassess our views on the Rainforest and will show its value to our world. Within the Rainforests lies plants that we humans have yet to analyze and experiment for medicine but for industry reasons, much of the Rainforest is being destroyed. Land and resources are quickly destroyed for commercial purposes and along with it the relationship with the tribes that live there who have potential knowledge to help western medicine.

People often quit looking for things that they can’t find within their own realm. There has been no cure found within the United States and in any civilized part of the world. Does that mean there is no cure for those diseases? No, because things exist outside the familiar realm that we are all use to. Tropical Rainforests exist throughout the world and are typically found near the equator of our globe. In each forest lies an abundant supply of natural resources. To this day we have not been able to identify all the plants that exist there. The cure to many of serious illnesses may lie within the shadows of the trees. The destruction of the Rain Forests in the world has its short term benefits with immediate positive reactions while the long term effects hurts the entire world. We are losing Earths greatest biological treasures just as we are beginning to appreciate their true value. Rainforests once covered 14% of the earths land surface. Currently, they now cover a mere 6%. Some experts believe that the rest of the Rainforests that exists may all go away within the next 50 years. (Nye) That fact is staggering, because a huge part of the world that originated will be completely annihilate within a short duration of time if no actions are taken. We have yet to discover what treasures in the medical field that may lay in that 6% that is left. The Rainforests consist of all sorts of living plans and creatures. With the Rainforests being ruined means close to half of the worlds species of plants, animals and microorganisms will be destroyed or severely threatened. It is said that we are “losing 17 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation.” (Mecca) That is a mind boggling 50,000 species a year! As the Rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently, 11 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. The Rainforest just so happens to be a place known for it’s wild and exotic plants. It is estimated that 5% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients. And the sad the thing is that scientists have tested less than 1% of these tropical trees and plants.

No one can challenge the fact that man is still largely dependant on plants for treating his aliments. Almost 0 percent of people in developing countries still rely on traditional medicine, which based largely on species of plants and animals for their primary health care. (Nye) Sales of these plant-based drugs in the U.S. amounted to some $4.5 billion in 180. Worldwide sales of these plant-based drugs were estimated at $40 billion in 10. Still even more drugs are derived from animals and microorganisms. Currently 11 prescription drugs sold world-wide come from plant derived sources from only 0 species of plants. Each region of the world has it’s own distinct treasures.

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Amongst the better-known tropical forests is the one in Brazil called the Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest is regarded as one of the worlds greatest natural resource if not the greatest. It is the most bioactive diverse natural phenomenon on the planet. Despite that staggering fact, it is still being destroyed just like any other tree in someone’s backyard. Within it, there are millions of plant, animal and insect species. This only means more chemicals. In these plants we can find chemicals that can be used for, drugs like quinine, muscle relaxants, steroids and cancer drugs. Since not all the plants have been analyzed and tested new drugs are bound to be found from there. Drugs that may help cure the most feared diseases of man kind like AIDS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimers. The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified over ,000 plants that are active against cancer cells, and 70% of these plants are found only in the rainforest. Today, over 5% of the active ingredients in todays cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the Rainforest. (Bontanicus) There are some researchers that have ventured out to the wilderness to discover what treasures the Rainforests holds. Dr. Sharon Savage gives a description of the interesting things she witnessed when there “ There were many plants that had multiple uses. For example, the cocona fruit is used to treat inflammation of the liver, to topically neutralize snake venom and to prevent scarring. Is it possible that one plant can posses so many different qualities? I think that my skepticism about natural remedies developed from the cure-all remedies that we hear a lot about.The most amazing thing was the number of plants used for one specific purpose. The leaves of the fumesacha are heated and placed on a womans abdomen to treat prolonged labor. Is it the relaxing effect of warmth on the abdomen that aids in labor or is there a topical relative of oxytocin in the leaves that is absorbed and produces a stronger labor? Another common remedy is the water from a boiled termite nest. It is used as an oral remedy for tuberculosis and other lung microbes. I couldnt help wondering if there is some new, undiscovered antibiotic present that treats these illnesses. How would they know if it was truly tuberculosis or a self-limiting viral process? I would have loved to see these cases, do the appropriate cultures and determine the mechanism of action.” (Savage) Among the thousands of species of rainforest plants that have not been analyzed, are many more thousands of unknown plant chemicals, many of which have evolved to protect the plants from pathogens. These plant chemicals may help us in our own constant struggle with constantly evolving pathogens just as Rachel Carson had problems with chemicals like DDT. However, time is running out as the resources that have so much potential is dwindling away.

With the decreasing number of sources within the Rainforests that will tell researchers what other medical treasures exist, we have managed to find valuable medicine that we use today. In the Cinchona tree we can find Cinchona, which reduces high fevers. (Nye) Malaria was a nasty disease from the past but is easily remedied by quinine, which is found in the bark of a rubiaceae tree. (Nye) Physostigmine was found to be treatment for glaucoma and was found from African calabar beans. (Nye) The word cancer always sends chills down our spine. It is a highly feared illness in our society and treatment for it is always uncertain. Within a tropical forest plant in the Rainforest offered hope for those infected by cancer. The rosy periwinkle was found to be useful for Hodgkin’s disease and other forms of cancer. More than ,000 rain forest plants have been found that contain chemicals that doctors can give to treat deadly cancers in adults. The rosy periwinkle in Madagascar is also used to help cure leukemia. One type of medicine is so strong that it can cure a kind of leukemia ( cancer of white blood cells ). Many more cures and medical substances have already been discovered in the Rainforests including diogenin, an active agent in contraceptive pills, reserpine, used to treat cardiac problems, curare, used in heart and lung surgery, the calabar bean of West Africa for eye disorders, and papay of Latin America for stomach illness. Medicines from the rain forests can kill germs, reduce fever, lower blood pressure, relax muscles, and treats rashes. It is still possible to produce thousands of products made from parts of the Rainforest with out destroying the forests themselves. The seeds, leaves, flowers, fruits, and sap will keep forming as long as the forest still stands. Wildlife Fact File states that one in ten of the most commonly used medicines are derived from plants of the rain forests and its hard to believe how much we really do depend on the rain forest. (Mecca) It would be a crime to ignore this and continue the path of destruction. If no cures are found within the substances from the Rainforest, then there are certainly resources that can be used for ingredients for medicine like for antibiotics, which is a substance that kill or inhibits the growth of microorganisms and treats infections caused by bacteria and other microorganisms. Plants like avenca, bitter melon, Brazillian PepperTree, Espinheira santa, mutamba, papaya, and sangre de grado can be used for antibiotics. Dr. Sharon Savage who went to the Peruvian Rainforest recalls, “During my two weeks in the jungle, I gained a great appreciation for traditional medicine and for the importance of incorporating it with our medical clinics.” (Savage) The plants do not have to be the answer but may be a stepping stone for a cure or perhaps treatment until a cure can be found.

You and I may wonder why such a valuable asset to the world is being destroyed. The answer is simple, greed. It is our human nature to desire wealth and power at the expense of the helpless. Rainforests are being destroyed worldwide for the profits they yield. They are destroyed for harvesting unsustainable resources like timber, for cattle and agriculture, and for subsistence cropping by rainforest inhabitants. Often times that meat from that cattle is used in a common burger joint that you go to across the street. Most rainforests are cleared by chainsaws, bulldozers and fires for its timber value and then are followed by farming and ranching operations, even by world giants like Mitsubishi Corporation, Gerogia Pacific, Texaco and Unocal. Land owners, governments and those living in the rainforest today are amongst the few that are fighting for the protection of the Rain Forest. For the natives, the forest is their home. It is morally and ethically wrong to destroy their habitation. Aside from losing their favor from destroying their home, we also lose their trust and the potential knowledge they may have about the Rain Forest. It is the natives that have lived there for the many nations who can show the western culture what potential medical resources there may be. The natives have lived there for so many years and have maintained substantial health. Many of the health problems that they encounter may be solved from our societies medicine while many of our health problems may be resolved by the natives’ medicine. It is important that we work together and that way both sides of the ladder may benefit. Many secrets and untold treasures await discovery with the medicinal plants used by shamans, healers and the indigenous people of the Rainforest Tribes.

There were an estimated ten million Indians living in the Amazonian Rainforest five centuries ago. It is said that “today there are less than 00,000. In Brazil alone, European colonists have destroyed more than 0 indigenous tribes since the 100s.” (O’Brien, 4) With them have gone centuries of accumulated knowledge of the medicinal value of rainforest species. As their homelands continue to be destroyed by deforestation, rainforest peoples are also disappearing. Most medicine men and shamans remaining in the Rainforests today are 70 years old or more. Each time a Rainforest medicine man dies, it is as if a library has burned down. When a medicine man dies without passing his arts on to the next generation, the tribe and the world loses thousands of years of irreplaceable knowledge about medicinal plants and so do we. The indigenous people were the ones who grew and flourished discovered the majority of our current plant-derived drugs through these traditional uses of plants. History has shown that the Rainforest is no different, and these bioprospectors now are working side by side with rainforest tribal shamans and herbal healers to learn the wealth of their plant knowledge and many uses of indigenous plants where drugs and pharmacies are virtually unknown. Robert Goodland of the World Bank wrote, Indigenous knowledge is essential for the use, identification and cataloguing of the [tropical] biota. As tribal groups disappear, their knowledge vanishes with them. The preservation of these groups is a significant economic opportunity for the [developing] nation, not a luxury. (Sponsel, 16) There are organizations that work with the tribes that are already in the Rainforests. The Rainforest Health Project’s existence is to “to provide basic medical aid, learn from and help re-empower indigenous healers, and explore the wonders of the rainforest.” (RHP) The question that still stands is what to do now.

There are several plausible solutions to counter the destruction of the Rainforest. One way, is to look at how preserving the Rainforest rather than killing it can make money. The Rainforest can be an expensive farm that produces things for product use or human use. Many organizations have demonstrated that if the medicinal plants, fruits, nuts, oils and other resources like rubber, chocolate and chicle, were harvested sustainably. The Rainforest land has much more economic value than if timber were harvested or if it were burned down for cattle or farming operations. Sustainable harvesting of these types of resources provides this value today as well more long-term income and profits year after year for generations to come. Who knows what treasures can be discovered in the Rainforest for future use. However, the drawback is that time and money is needed for the initialization of the whole process of research and harvesting the land. By harvesting the land in the Rainforest, the money issue can be dealt with. It is said that, “today, entire communities and indigenous tribes earn 5 to 10 times more money wild harvesting medicinal plants, fruits, nuts and oils than they can earn by chopping down the forest for subsistence crops.” (Mecca) This money that is earned by the natives can be then used to protect the lands of the Rainforest. The latest statistics show that rainforest land converted to cattle operations yields the landowner $60 per acre and if timber is harvested, the land is worth $400 per acre. However, if these renewable and sustainable resources are harvested, the land will yield the landowner $,400 per acre. (O’Brien, 168) This value provides an income not only today, but also year after year - for generations while still protecting the forest. Just as important, to wildharvest the wealth of sustainable rainforest resources effectively, local people and indigenous inhabitants are employed.

Another source of friendly business for the Rainforest are pharmaceutical companies. Today, over 100 pharmaceutical companies and several branches of the US government, including giants like Merck, Abbott, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Monsanto, SmithKline Beecham and the National Cancer Institute are engaged in plant-based research projects for possible drugs and cures for viruses, infections, cancer and AIDS. Most of this research is currently taking place in the rainforest in an industry that is now called bio-prospecting. This new pharmacological industry has sprung up, drawing together an unlikely confederacy plant-collectors and anthropologists; ecologists and conservationists; natural product companies and nutritional supplement manufacturers, AIDS and cancer researchers; executives in the worlds largest drug companies, and native indigenous shamans. They are part of a radical experiment - to preserve the worlds rainforests by showing how much more valuable they are standing than cut down. And it is a race against a clock whose every tick means another acre of charred forest. Yet it is also a race that pits one explorer against another, for those who score the first big hit in chemical bio-prospecting will secure wealth and a piece of scientific immortality.

Solutions lay everywhere and in the case of the future, the answer lies in the generations to come. I believe that the educational system must inform the children at early stage so that they are aware of the harm that our current society is doing to something beautiful. If there is doubt in the use of that method, I am proof that it worked and my concerns for the Rainforests remain steadfast. There was even a movie made called Fern Gully that talked about saving the Rainforests. (Mcabe) Children are then able to see the beauty of the Rainforest. Their fascination over something that is real and dying is good, because it is something that they can look into rather than something like flying like Superman. I know that in my childhood that animated movie moved me and I felt the pain that the Rainforest felt as it was being destroyed. My class saw the movie and as a result we started to fund raise to save the Rainforest. We raised enough money to purchase three acres of the Amazon Rainforest. This land was owned by my fourth grade class and could not be touched by other corporations.

Rainforests are definitely something that humans have taken for granted. Time and money have to be invested in preserving what is left of it. The reasons are simple and plentiful. It may hold the key to many of our medical problems. Rainforest plants are complex chemical storehouses that contain many undiscovered biodynamic compounds with unrealized potential for use in modern medicine. We can gain access to these materials only it we study and conserve the species that contain them. Rainforests currently provide sources providing one-fourth of todays medicines, and 70% of the plants found to have anti-cancer properties are found only in the rainforest. The Rainforest and its immense undiscovered biodiversity holds the key to unlocking tomorrows cures for devastating diseases.

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