4.09.2007

What were they thinking?

Here's further proof that if you spend enough time away from the forest and fields, whole foods, and our plant allies, your brain eventually turns to mush.
Researchers at Northwestern University published a new method for generating flavonoids in a laboratory. Previous efforts by organic chemists had resulted in failure, primarily because flavonoids are chiral molecules that have a single "handedness" in nature, and all the lab processes to date have generated an equal mix of both left and right handed molecules, which greatly limits their usefulness while also increasing their toxicity. Well, using a catalyst from Cinchona (Peruvian bark - quinine), these folks managed to synthesize flavonoids that are all identical to those found in nature. They started by replicating the constituents found in milk thistle and soy. The hope: new drugs to treat cancer.
Ok. The goal is admirable, and I respect the chemists' desire to find new therapies for cancer. But flavonoids are one of the most abundant and bioavailable of all plant constituents, being responsible for color (other than green) in plants. They are found in coffee, chocolate, peppers, corn, berries, flowers ... the list could go on forever. So why spend all this time on trying to find synthetic ones? Karl Scheidt, one of the researchers, says he wants "... to get selectivity and specificity using chemistry. A naturally occurring flavonoid may not have all the characteristics you want -- it may not be potent enough, for example -- but with chemistry you can go in and modify that structure, imbuing the molecule with more desirable traits, such as binding more effectively to a protein of interest or being less toxic to normal cells."
Ok. I can understand this goal as well. But here, in my opinion, is the bottom line (and the reason why you can really see that the chemists' brains are a bit disconnected): we have evolved on this planet side-by-side with plants. The way our DNA expresses, the way the cellular machinery works, the way cancer is (or isn't) controlled, are all intimately tied to the environment in which we evolved. Plant flavonoids have profound effects on all of those processes, and by definition they are eminently compatible with our physiologies (we are really part of the same being). The effects of a modified flavonoid not found in nature are wholly unknown in vivo. However, the benefits of a colorful, plant-rich, whole-foods diet are well researched and obvious to any herbalist. Why are we wasting time trying to develop weird unnatural therapies that are only used after the fact (i.e. after cancer has become detectable)? Why are we not devoting huge chunks of our governmental infrastructure to developing community gardens, promoting whole, fresh plant foods, and using natural flavonoids to prevent cancer in the first place?
I appreciate the intention behind this research. But I do feel that pursuing such strategies long-term will only lead to further disconnection from Nature, and thus further disease.

1 comment:

Kiva Rose said...

Beautifully said, I couldn't agree more. Thank you.