Originally published December 17 2014
Animals instinctively turn to natural medicine to improve their health
by Jonathan Benson, staff writer
(NaturalNews) When animals get sick, the last thing they think of doing is heading down to the local CVS for a prescription. New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals that animals both wild and domestic instinctively seek out natural remedies when illness besets them, demonstrating the true power of nature as medicine.
The phenomenon is known as zoopharmacognosy, which is derived from the root words zoo ("animal"), pharma ("drug"), and gnosy ("knowing"). It refers to an instinctive sense built within many animal types and breeds as to what plants and herbs possess healing compounds and substances. And a surprising diversity of animals possesses it, according to researcher Joel Shurkin.
Citing multiple studies on what appear to be unique, self-medicative behaviors among various animal groups, Shurkin found that nature is the animal kingdom's neighborhood pharmacy. Everything from wild bears and elk to domesticated cats and dogs rely on nature's offerings for assisting with stomach aches, parasites, bacterial infections and successful birthing.
"It's not clear how much knowing or learning is involved, but many animals seem to have... an innate ability to detect the therapeutic constituents in plants," said Shurkin, as quoted by the Daily Mail Online. "Although the evidence is entirely circumstantial, the examples are plentiful. The practice is spreading across the animal kingdom in sometimes surprising ways."
Chimpanzees consume sandpaper leaves to rid themselves of parasites One study cited by Shurkin was conducted back in the 1960s and looked at the behaviors of chimpanzees living in Tanzania. At the time, Japanese anthropologist Toshisada Nishida observed that these primates would sometimes eat aspella leaves, which are said to possess no nutritional value, and they would often consume them whole.
Why chimpanzees do this was little understood at the time, but more recent research conducted in the mid-1990s speculated that the animals were self-medicating with the leaves. Research conducted at Kyoto University in Japan found that a parasite-ridden chimp who consumed aspella leaves recovered completely by the next day.
Besides possessing a chemical known as thiarubrine-A that demonstrably kills certain intestinal parasites, aspella leaves are rough like sandpaper, which some experts believe helps "scrub" parasites from the intestines. Other animals have been observed to use the leaves for similar purposes.
Animals eat clay, herbs and other natural substances to "detox" and improve fertility In Brazil, red and green macaws have been observed eating kaolin clay, which is a known digestive panacea. Since these Amazonian birds tend to eat mostly seeds, they often inadvertently encounter poisonous berries that make them sick. By consuming kaolin clay, they effectively detoxify their systems of poison, naturally.
And in Madagascar, pregnant lemurs have been found nibbling on tamarind and fig leaves and bark, which scientists have shown helps them produce more milk for their offspring. At the same time, consuming these leaves helps kill intestinal parasites and increase the odds of having a successful birth as opposed to a miscarriage.
Baboons, lizards and elephants all do the same things with leaves and plants native to their areas, say experts, using these natural remedies to improve their health, increase fertility and fend off bacteria and viruses. Even domesticated cats and dogs go after green grass, for instance, which helps them vomit when they eat something that causes digestive discomfort.
"Dogs do not have the means to digest grass, as they lack the enzymes needed to break down the fibres," said Dr. Michael Goldberg, a Vancouver-based veterinarian, in a piece in Modern Dog magazine.
"Thus, there is little nutritional value in it for them. One reason for eating grass may be due to a feeling of nausea. It is possible that dogs learn this is a temporary solution for stomach irritation."
Humans have a lot to learn from animals, says expert Researchers who've been studying bonobos living in the Congo Basin for nearly 20 years have made some fascinating discoveries about how these amazing creatures actually create more effective medicines from plants in their mouths. Based on fieldwork that took place between 2007 and 2009, scientists found that some animals have actually learn the art of creating customized, bioavailable medicine.
As outlined in Shurkin's latest research, bonobos trying to get rid of intestinal parasites were observed to collect the leaves and stems of the Manniophyton fulvum shrub, rest them flat on their tongues, and allow their saliva to coat them. They would then fold the leaves inside their mouths, making sure not to let them touch their lips, to avoid itching and sores, and swallow them whole for maximum relief.
"The scientists researching zoopharmacognosy are convinced that humans can learn from the animals, particularly in finding new medications," Shurkin wrote. "Much of folk medicine, particularly in the undeveloped world, likely came from medicine men watching animals self-medicate, and in the case of the plant used by the bonobos, what they saw works."
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