Nature's Top Five Secret Healing Powers
The Wonders of Nature
"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous."
Today we are in the unique position of discovering that what can kill will also cure. What might look ordinary, has extraordinary hidden capacity. The result of this is that nearly every major disease we know of could, potentially, be treated and in many cases cured by venom and other chemical substances used by various animals.
Snake venom kills - but it also cures
"Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain."
Henry David Thoreau
Snakes always make most of us wary and this is a natural instinct to an animal who has the potential to cause serious harm even fatalities. However, there is another side to these beautiful reptiles.
There are about 600 venomous snakes. Each species of snake has a unique and complicated venom that works in different ways. Firstly, it's an intricate mixture of peptides, toxins and numerous enzymes. This combination has devastating effects on the prey's body and can be divided into four main types:
- Venom that damages tissues causing necrosis and blood loss - called Sitotoxic venom
- Venom that damages blood vessels leading to thinning of the blood and haemorrhage - called Haemotoxic venom.
- Venom that damages the nervous system is called a Neurotoxic venom.
- Venom that is a combination of neurotoxin and haemotoxin is called Miotoxic venom.
Although these venoms can be deadly, there are attributes that scientists have isolated showing potential benefits for people.
Venom has the ability to act on certain cells or tissues of the body while leaving other cells alone. For cancer research this has proven to be invaluable knowledge. The difficulty with the present chemotherapy treatment is that it can't distinguish between healthy cells and cancerous cells. Therefore a good proportion of the body that is healthy is also damaged during treatment. Scientists have found that in a few snake venoms they have the potential to target specific cells but leave others unharmed.
However, treatment for cancer is not the only medical research that has been carried out with snake venom. These toxins are already used in some drugs called ACE Inhibitors. Basically these are medicines that control high blood pressure and other disorders of the cardiovascular system. A drug researched by Brazilian and British medical researchers using venom is now being used to treat high blood pressure.
The venoms called 'Haemotoxins' are being researched in order to alleviate damage by blood clots and after a stroke. The chemical aspect of the venom that causes bleeding could be isolated so dissolving clots that have formed in the brain or in other areas of the body. At the present time warfarin is one of the most popular drugs used to prevent clotting but does have major drawbacks not present with the snake venom based drugs. In Europe some medications containing snake venom have already been used successfully to treat deep venous thrombosis (blood clot) and from blood clots forming after surgery. The Malayan pit viper has a protein called 'ancrod' that is able to dissolve clots safely.
Potentially snake venom could also be used for a wide variety of other disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. The Vienna University of Technology is one of the leading institutions looking into the venom of pit vipers and tropical rattle snakes from South America that show potential to help with this disease.
Other studies are being carried out by Dr. Krishna Baksi of the University Central Del Caribe in Puerto Rico on brain receptors that receive specific chemical signals to carry out a certain function. These receptors are thought to play some role in conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease along with many others. Snake venom has the capacity to target certain receptors. The problem to date is trying to find the correct combination of venom that will target one set of receptors. For example someone who suffers from Alzheimer's disease would require specific receptors to be targeted that are different from someone with Parkinson's Disease.
Snake venom potential is also being researched in areas such as anti-biotics that will stop the immunity building up in many dangerous bacteria - many micro-organisms are becoming immune to current infection treatments. Venoms are also potentially useful in illnesses such as kidney disease.
Spiders and scorpions with the power to cure?
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”
― John Lubbock
Spiders are not everyone's ideal animal. However, love them or detest them, a spider might just save your life one day.
Spider venom could be of great value to people who have suffered from a stroke. Some of the chemicals found within the venom could be used to limit the damage to the brain that a stroke has caused. When a spider kills its prey it often does so by paralysing it. The paralysis occurs due to the venom blocking a substance called glutamate that controls muscle movement. The human brain also has glutamate - a necessary neurotransmitter. However, after a stroke this chemical is released in vast quantities that damage brain cells. Spider venom has the potential to halt this process so limiting the damage done.
Spider venom also has the potential to help people with Alzheimer's disease. In particular, scientists in South America have identified protein within a specific spider's venom. The black widow spider produces latrotoxin that effects the nervous system. One of the peptides within the toxin has been identified as having the potential to help stop the deterioration in Alzheimer's disease.
Another group of animals with the potential to heal are scorpions. In particular the death-stalker scorpion, whose venom is extremely toxic. This venom is being researched for the possibility of helping cancer patients. This scorpion's toxin contains chlorotoxins. It is these substances that scientists in America are looking at closely. The reason for the scrutiny is that chlorotoxins target and stick to cells of cancerous tumours but ignore surrounding healthy cells. Scientists are working to find a way to use chlorotoxins to deliver drugs or other chemicals to the cancer cells, while healthy ones remain unharmed.
Were you aware that venoms and other animal chemicals were being researched for medical purposes?
Healing from the seas
"Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another." ~Juvenal, Satires
The zebra fish is not only very pretty but it is one of the most remarkable animals on the planet. This fish has the capability to heal it's own heart.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF), is currently researching the attributes of this wonderful fish that has the ability to repair it's own heart muscles. The researchers are looking for the process that allows the animal to do this in the hope that it can be used for people with heart disease.
Professor Weissberg of the BHF is leading the research into the medical problem of heart muscles that are damaged and how to use the zebra fish's capabilites and apply this to the human heart. The research will focus on stem cell research in order to solve the issue of mending damaged heart muscles. The zebra fish will be vital in this study due to the fact of it being able to regrow it's damaged heart muscles within a few weeks.
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"What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well." Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Of course these furry balls with the funny noses, large ears and fangs are perhaps not everyone's cup of tea - basically because they survive by sucking the blood of other animals. However, these fascinating animals actually have the potential to help patients who have suffered a stroke.
In the UK, through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the DIAS 4 study have trials on-going at the present time. Groups of patients who have suffered a stroke are currently being treated using chemicals found within the bat's saliva. These chemicals are special proteins that help the bat to drink blood. These proteins both thin the blood and break up blood clots. If the bat's salivia did not have this property the animal would be unable to get sufficient quantities of blood to survive.
Scientists have produced a drug that contains these vampire bat proteins. There are blood thinning drugs that are currently used - called thrombolytics - for stroke victims, but these have to be given within quite a short period of time after the onset of a stroke for them to be effective. However, the new drug containing bat proteins gives the patient a much bigger time allowance to commence treatment which will still be as effective.
The study into nature's venoms and chemicals continues around the world. Daily, new and exciting properties are being discovered that could potentially change health and healing beyond recognition. So instead of being scared of our venomous animals, maybe we should change our outlook to one of wonder and appreciation for helping to save lives.