Most people are constantly striving to be healthier and fitter to attain better well-being and have a positive view of themselves. As a result, to improve their health, they turn to different methods of doing so. Some people prefer relying on well-researched and studied techniques, which can be generally considered part of modern medicine. Meanwhile, others seek to embrace the treatments of traditional medicine, the knowledge about which has been compiled over many centuries. Although traditional medicine is still quite commonly used, it heavily depends on the ecology and environment. Traditional medicine and the concept of cultural health are deeply ingrained in the context of nature and unique resources such as medicinal plants characteristic of certain world regions. Thus, it is interesting to trace the link between traditional medicine and ecology, as well as to study various aspects of their relationship. The current research highlights three main themes descriptive of the link between traditional medicine and ecology, including man-made interference in the environment, climate change, and the problem of extinction.
Man-Made Change in Environment Disrupts Traditional Medical Practices
Health Risks from Lost Awareness of Cultural Behaviours Rooted in Traditional Medicine: An Insight in Geophagy and Mineral Intake
Chiara Frazzolia, Guy Bertrand Pouokam, Alberto Mantovani, Orish Ebere Orisakwe
The article published Science of The Total Environment highlights the problem of the practice of geophagy, the consumption of soil in the modern world. The authors describe geophagy as a popular medical procedure common in many African countries and in other parts of the world. In rural communities, eating soil is thought to be beneficial for all people, especially pregnant women. Clay is one of the main resources used for geophagy, containing a significant amount of nutrients. For instance, in the South Africa Republic, more than thirty percent of pregnant women consume soil regularly (Frazzolia et al. 1466). Ecological factors play a considerable role in the safe use of soil for consumption.
Even though geophagy has been used for many centuries, soil quality and chemical composition has changed since the practice emerged. Economic development has hurt areas that traditionally constituted the sources of medicinal soil. Many companies illegally deposit hazardous materials in such areas, while petrochemical activities associated with mining lead to the contamination of the soils once safe for consumption (Frazzolia et al. 1468). As a result, the ecological situation undermines the safety of using traditional medicine in the form of geophagy. For instance, kaolin, one of the popular types of clay utilized for consumption in Cameroon, was discovered to have an abnormally high amount of lead and mercury (Frazzolia et al. 1468). Such developments ultimately make using traditional medicine in many regions of the world an activity entailing high health risks.
Deforestation and the Future of Herbal Medicine Practice
The article explores the topic of the risk of deforestation for the use of herbal medicine as one of the essential elements of cultural health. Traditional medicine has always been associated with applying various plants and herbs to treat diseases and other ailments. Yet, today, the current rate of deforestation in different regions of the planet threatens the continuation of many cultural health practices. According to the article, four billion people worldwide depend on herbal medicine to manage their health issues (Chinedu 94). Thus, ecology remains a considerable factor in the maintenance of the health of local populations in many countries worldwide.
Forests are important elements of the ecosystem since they provide the ground for growing plants used in traditional medicine. Since the 1980s, the destruction of forests has increased significantly, especially in tropical regions (Chinedu 94). If deforestation continues at the current pace, local communities whose livelihoods depend on traditional medicine may lose access to plants that they have been using for centuries.
Climate Change Undermines Traditional Medicine
Scientistsʼ Warning on Climate Change and Medicinal Plants
Wendy L. Applequist, Josef A. Brinckmann, Anthony B. Cunningham, Robbie E. Hart, Michael Heinrich, David R. Katerere, Tinde van Andel
The article describes the threat to plants used in traditional medicine from climate change and the changing environment. The researchers state that the existing evidence of climate change shows that many ecosystems can experience disruptions that eventually lead to habitat destruction. According to the article, at least six hundred plant species have gone extinct over the past two centuries (Applequist et al. 11). Scientists say climate change can accelerate such a process and cause even more plant species to die. For example, in North America, numerous hectares of coniferous forests faced decimation due to warmer climates in winters (Applequist et al. 11). The article’s authors claim that similar events are likely to continue happening shortly.
Climate change will, both directly and indirectly, affect people’s health, especially those living in remote areas. Communities of people who live far away from urban centers are dependent on traditional medicine, but harsh and extreme weather conditions can undermine their sustainability (Applequist et al. 13). Moreover, even if the destruction of ecosystems does not take place, adverse effects can still be significant. For instance, researchers state that the quality of plants utilized in traditional medicine can worsen (Applequist et al. 13). Thus, people who use them will not be able to receive effective treatment.
As Droughts Lengthen, Zimbabwe’s Medicinal Plants Disappear
The article by Andrew Mambondiyani published by Reuters provides an account of one of the climate change events. Essentially, the author describes a drought in Zimbabwe that destroyed traditional medicinal plants grown by local farmers. Although the draught season is common in Zimbabwe, its intensity and frequency have only been growing over the past decades. In 2015, the country experienced one of the harshest droughts, which decimated numerous plants and even livestock (Mambondiyani). The destruction of medicinal plants that people in rural areas have been using for centuries threatens their lives. Since all clinics are located in cities, people simply have no option but to use their cultural remedies. In Zimbabwe, medicinal plants constitute the main treatments for stomach aches, blood pressure, and even sexually transmitted infections. However, some have already disappeared in certain parts of the country, leaving people unable to treat themselves. Thus, the prolonged droughts in Zimbabwe, which constitute the manifestation of climate change, undermine the use of traditional medicine in the country.
Extensive Use of Traditional Medicine Leads to Extinction of Species
Traditional Chinese medicine and wildlife
The author of the article published in National Geographic talks about the current situation in relation to the use of various species in traditional Chinese medicine. Namely, the article features information about the effects of traditional medicine on the environment in the country and its biodiversity. Although there is no evidence that some traditional treatments are effective, Chinese consumers continue to utilize remedies devised many centuries ago. The popularity of traditional medicine in China leads to poaching and extensive liquidation of many animal species, including pangolins. In China, the scales of pangolins, when ground into powder, are considered to positively affect the health of people with arthritis and other conditions. Rhinos and tigers, as well as bears, are also the animals that suffer from poaching since their body parts are used in traditional remedies. For instance, bears’ bile is one of the main ingredients the traditional medicine in China, which leads to an abuse of these animals.
The government has already introduced various initiatives to stop poaching by banning the killing of different animal species. In partnership with authorities, entrepreneurs created special farms for animals such as bears and tigers, but such a solution is still imperfect. Animals kept in such farms are often captured in the wild, contributing to their species’ reduction. Thus, using traditional medicine undermines ecology in countries such as China because demand for ingredients drives poaching and other illegal activities.
Traditional medicine and ecology are linked together and affect each other in different aspects. The impact on the environment, which comes from human activities, disrupts the use of traditional medicine in many parts of the world. For instance, in Africa, the practice of geophagy, eating soil, is quite common, yet the economic activities on the continent worsen the quality of soils, often making them virtually dangerous to consume. Similarly, deforestation, which many nations face, undermines the growth of medicinal plants, which are used to produce both traditional and modern remedies. Climate change is another issue that threatens the sustainability of many ecosystems and, subsequently, traditional medicine. Draughts and other extreme weather conditions prevent numerous plants utilized in traditional medicine from growing, putting at risk the lives of people who embrace cultural treatments. Finally, the extensive use of traditional medicine leads to poaching and increases the probability of extinction of some species.
Applequist, Wendy L. et al. “Scientistsʼ Warning on Climate Change and Medicinal Plants” Planta Medica, vol. 86, no. 1, 2020, pp. 10–18. DOI: 10.1055/a-1041-3406.
Chinedu, Engine. “Deforestation and the Future of Herbal Medicine Practice.” Journal of Herbmed Pharmacology, vol. 6, no. 3, 2017, pp. 94–94.
Frazzoli, Chiara, et al. “Health Risks from Lost Awareness of Cultural Behaviours Rooted in Traditional Medicine: An Insight in Geophagy and Mineral Intake.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 10, 2016, pp. 1465–1471. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.06.028.
Hall, Jani. “Traditional Chinese Medicine and Wildlife.” National Geographic, 2019. Web.
Mambondiyani, Andrew. “As Droughts Lengthen, Zimbabwe’s Medicinal Plants Disappear.” Reuters, 2017. Web.