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Artemisia - the dynamite from the mugwort

December 01, 2018 Curro Cachinero RSS Feed

 

Today we are talking about Artemisia annua, the annual mugwort or Chinese mugwort. Artemisia annua is not to be confused with Artemisia vulgaris, which is mainly known as a spice in this country. When you smoke Artemisia vulgaris, you understand Van Gogh's paintings much better. Because - what few people know - Artemisia vulgaris has a psychedelic effect. In the past, Artemisia vulgaris was used to make absinthe, which Van Gogh is known to have consumed in copious quantities and which also makes the many bright colours and distorted proportions in his paintings easier to understand.

This is the point.

That is not what it is about today. Today it is about the annual "annua" mugwort. Artemisia annua gained great fame after the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to its discoverer Yu Yu Tou in 2015. More specifically, the prize was awarded for isolating artemisiniin from Artemisia annua. Artemisiniin has been the world's number one substance for the production of effective antimalarial drugs since 1968. In the meantime, there have also been isolated studies on the efficacy of artesunates in cancer.

The current state of research on this topic is presented in an easy-to-understand way in the TAZ article "Dynamite from the mugwort". In it, one of the leading researchers in this field, Dr. Efferth, describes the assumed mechanism of action of artesunates. From a chemical point of view, artesunate are so-called endoperoxide bridges. If these peroxides meet plasmodia or, according to the hypothesis, cancer cells, these bridges break down and highly reactive oxygen compounds, so-called "free radicals", are released, which then "blow up" the cells. This "cytostatic" property is particularly interesting because the rest of the organism does not seem to suffer any damage, as is the case with chemotherapy.

On the plant artemisia.

The plant Artemisia annua is a particularly good illustration of where we stand today as humanity in terms of our understanding of health. On the one hand, there is the conflict between big pharmaceutical companies, which would like to sell their expensive patented medicines, and Christian NGOs in Africa, which cultivate Artemisia at village level. On the other hand, we see isolationist, reductionist thinking at work here, which lies at the root of many other problems of our modern society. I do not want to say anything about the motives of the pharmaceutical companies. But I do want to say something about the thinking that underlies the isolation of substances.

We obviously think: "If I isolate an active substance, then the drug I make from it will be particularly effective". This enthusiasm for the isolated single substance goes back to the discovery of peneziline. Yes, we were able to beat many diseases with it. But the bottom line is that the disadvantages outweigh the benefits. How else is it possible that we have such aggressively mutated viruses today that cost far more people their lives than penicillin saves? The problem of antibiotic resistance is not trivial.

What is this short-sighted thinking based on? You only see the quick effect, but are blind to the long-term consequences, with devastating effects. What would happen if we started thinking holistically instead? It would mean that we see that a single chemical substance within a plant is embedded in a context for good reasons. A context that we could respect and honour. We would then see that nothing - but nothing at all - in this world can be considered in isolation without already polluting the environment. Everything is interconnected. There is only ONE life. Is that so difficult to understand? What would follow from this ONE view, if it were to happen one day?



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