What is Natural?

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Natural is a profitable word these days – cosmetics, medicine, food ... and of course fracked gas.

The word has been hijacked by the marketing and advertising personnel from a diverse range of industries for its positive feel good factor. Anything ‘natural’ is deemed to be not only better for you compared to non natural, but actually XXG (extra extra good for you).

I bought a ‘100 % natural’ loaf of bread over a month ago. It is ten days past the sell by date and there is not a speck of mold growing on it ... there is nothing ‘natural’ about that!

You only have to pick up a bottle of ‘natural’ shampoo or ‘natural’ food and look on the back and you’ll find a list of chemical names that would put you on the Nobel Prize list for organic chemistry, if only you could pronounce them.

Therein lies an irony – the ‘organic’ chemist. Ask most people today what they understand by the word organic and they’ll probably talk fruit and vegetables. However, organic chemistry is anything but that. Originally the term referred to the study of the reactions and structure of compounds that contained carbon. Central to that chemistry is the structure of the benzene ring. Yes benzene, that carcinogen that was used as an aftershave and added to coffee to decaffeinate it in the early 1900s. Today the term organic chemistry covers everything from plastics, polymers and petrochemicals, to explosives, toxic paints and yes - pesticides!

Then there are natural medicines and conventional medicines. ´Natural’ in this sense is generally used to mean of ‘natural’ origin, such as plant extracts. But exactly how natural are natural medicines and are conventional or ‘allopathic’ medicines all unnatural?

It can be quite a grey area

Take Insulin for example.

A diagnosis of diabetes before 1922 was a death sentence as there was no successful treatment. In those days there was no differentiation between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. For the record, type 1 refers to diabetes caused by an inability of the body to produce insulin (usually due to the body’s immune system attacking insulin producing cells). Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance (the body's inability to respond properly to insulin). The type 1 diabetic has to be given insulin or die.
In 1923 insulin was isolated from animal pancreas and type 1 diabetes was no longer a killer disease. The animal (cattle or pig) insulin molecule shows reasonable crossover activity on human target cells. Clearly pig insulin is not a natural remedy for human beings and did have some side effects such as allergies and dermatological problems, but it did the job.

In 1978 the human insulin gene was isolated and inserted into bacteria that happily read the gene and churned out lots and lots of insulin molecules whilst they went about their normal daily business. The insulin was extracted and purified and the first medicine made by recombinant DNA technology had arrived. Recombinant DNA insulin is as natural as it gets outside of being produced in your own pancreatic cells. It is exactly the same molecule with the same activity as your own insulin and saves the lives of the 3 million patients with type 1 diabetes, just in the USA, every day.

Now let’s take a look at some vitamin supplements. There’s nothing more natural than those, right? Well there are different ways of creating vitamin and mineral supplements. The whole substance (or group of substances in some cases) can be extracted from plant sources. Molecules that more or less resemble the molecular structure of the required substance can be chemically modified to turn them into the real thing or they can simply be manufactured chemically from scratch. Most vitamins in supplements are the chemically modified forms.

Naturally Occuring Form

Vitamin A (Betacarotene)
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenate)
Vitamin B6 (Beta D pyridoxine)
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin, deoxyadenosylcobalamin)

Chemical Form

Vitamin A acetate; Vitamin A palmitate;
Thiamin mononitrate; Thiamin hydrochloride;
Pantothenic acid; calcium pantothenate; panthenol
Pyridoxine hydrochloride
Folic Acid
Cyanocobalamin; hydroxycobalamin

These slightly altered forms have been created for various reasons. Some are created because they are the only way to manufacture them economically. Some are created to make them less harsh on the stomach and improve absorption or make them slower to release so that they can be absorbed over a longer period of time. Some are even created so that they have a longer shelf life.

So it is clear that, not all that is natural is not chemical, and not all that is chemical is not natural, and not all that is natural is natural to us.
But there can be health benefits in all forms.

Medicine has been polarized into the ‘natural’ and ‘chemical’ and for that read the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’, the ‘benefic’ and the ‘toxic’ respectively.

It is time that doctors, patients, research scientists, natural health practitioners and end users slapped the marketers, financial and statistician spin doctors on the wrist and demanded that they stop hijacking the word natural and give a truthful answer to the basic question of ´does it help to heal the patient?’



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