Like our devoted and strong-willed mothers, nature has proven to us that she is a powerful force—capable of battling ailments and rejuvenating our minds and bodies. To achieve an enhanced well-being, it is important for us to understand how we can more efficiently draw nourishment and restoration from nature.
Nature in the history of medicine and healing
Life-giving and nurturing, nature has long provided us with healing properties to sustain the vigor of our minds and bodies. In Japan, they coined the term shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, to promote the highly beneficial effects of strolling in the woods. It invites us to use all our senses as we absorb our natural surroundings – lie on the ground; breath in a forest’s fresh fragrance; gaze at the light sifting through tree branches; and listen to the humming of birds. This activity shifts feelings of stress and anxiety into states of balance and calm. Furthermore, a study from the Nippon Medical School, as cited in Time Magazine, reported that walking through woodlands encourages the body to produce natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that strengthens our immune system, and linked with anti-cancer properties as well. Soaking up nature’s beauty sparks our sense of awe and refocuses our attention away from physical and emotional discomforts.
Alongside our evolution, nature has not only sheltered us, but also sustained our overall well-being through natural remedies against illnesses, as instinctively discovered by our ancestors. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the Egyptians and Chinese have records dating back from 2900 BC of plant-based medications including pills, infusions, and ointments. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, fresh ginger is considered highly valuable for its medicinal properties that can relieve cold within the stomach, improve gastrointestinal issues, and treat flu infections.
Hippocrates, a formidable force in the history of medicine, stated that “Our natures are the physicians of our diseases,” alluding to the function of natural cure and zeroing in on proper diet and the condition of one’s environment. Grounded on significant medical breakthroughs, such as the discovery of vaccination, the 19th century introduced the era of health maintenance and paved the way for the discovery of preventive substances, such as oils and vitamins.
Development of medicine
At the dawn of the 20th century, aspirin, derived from salicin, a natural product from a willow tree bark was introduced, and ultimately became the most valuable and popular anti-inflammatory agent. Continuous advancements coupled with product advertising in the 1960’s substantially increased drug production by pharmaceutical firms. By the 1990’s, they were adopting highly automated methods to increase efficiency, since “traditional extract-based”  screening of natural substances was deemed to be economically challenging. Thus, drug discovery processes grounded on organic sources declined, and gave way instead to chemical, synthetic procedures. A strong interplay of economic, technological, and marketing forces drove synthetically produced pharmaceutical drugs to dominate the medical industry.
Resurgence of natural products
We are naturally inclined to nature’s healing power because we are essentially part of nature, so our bodies are biologically structured to respond well to organic medicine and procedures, if used correctly. Corresponding research cited by ResearchGate mentioned that the rise of functional foods and natural health products is connected to the growing incidence of diabetes and cancer, and their correlation with diet. With newfound understanding on health and nutrition, consumers have now developed a greater sense of intuitive awareness, wherein the body’s inherent ability for self-repair is underscored. A report from Ken Research has also discovered that Filipinos have increased their interest in consuming organic food with antioxidant, anti-aging, and anti-cancer properties.
Natural products: our defense today and tomorrow
As seen in a study by Grand View Research, the global nutraceutical (“medicinally or nutritionally functional foods”) market size was valued at $380 billion in 2019 and is poised to reach around $550 billion by 2024, with an 8.3% compound annual growth rate. Consumption of dietary supplements are expanding due to cardiovascular disorders and malnutrition, while functional foods are being driven by the increasing geriatric population and rising healthcare costs. Comparatively, according to Business Wire and Global Market Insights, the processed and synthetic food markets are projected to attain a $4.1 trillion and $21 billion value by 2024, respectively, wherein nutraceuticals will have grown to an equivalent of 13% of the processed foods market size.
Global trends predict the significant growth of botanical dietary supplements over the forecast period owing to the dominance of nutraceuticals with natural ingredients, according to Markets Insider. In the Asia Pacific region, the growing number of vegetarians will propel the need for quality plant sources for protein, such as soy products. As for the Philippine market, consumers have shown significant interest in single formula products with ginseng and ginkgo biloba components that offer holistic health benefits. Furthermore, the growth of natural health products in the Philippines is forecasted to expand within the functional food segment, particularly for herbal extracts such as garlic and green tea, and essential minerals like calcium and magnesium, based on 2019 research findings.
Nature’s breakthroughs against a pandemic
At present, we are experiencing a time in history where nature is calling us to revisit natural medicines due to the presence of new illnesses that require tapping into alternative sources of treatment. Former Department of Health secretary and long-time community doctor, Dr. Galvez Tan, shared in a recent ABS-CBN ANCX article that the coconut’s lauric acid or laurine has been confirmed to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial features. The National University of Singapore is set to further study lauric acid and its derivate, monolaurin. Apart from the coconut, the herb tawa-tawa is also being tested for its anti-viral qualities to combat COVID-19.
Dr. Galvez Tan consequently recommends taking one tablespoon of virgin coconut oil (VCO) at least once a day. He also shared that Philippine fruits and vegetables contain anti-free radical properties that contribute to nourishment and healing.
These ongoing studies on natural medicines further support data on the rising demand for natural health products that assuage our susceptibility to sicknesses due to our more complex way of life today.
Recreating nature at home
Mother nature’s unique power is truly astounding because even during these times of restricted movement, there are various ways on how we can reintroduce our senses to her wonders. By simply adding more plants inside our homes, we can regulate our stress levels, achieve heightened focus, and breathe cleaner air. Now is also the time to bring out our diffusers and enjoy the mood enhancing and therapeutic properties of plant aromas. Researchers have found out that peppermint oil is particularly effective for reducing physical and mental fatigue, while lavender oil provides calming effects. Another way to bring nature closer to us is through simply peeking outside our windows and allowing natural light into our homes. Interestingly, even a landscape painting or photo can stimulate mindfulness and uplift our spirits. Lastly, listening to nature’s sounds can also induce a positive and peaceful state of mind.
As we go through more demanding lifestyles, let us learn to reconnect with mother nature—allow her to revitalize our bodies and souls, so that we do not just get by each day, but thrive, regardless of any circumstance.
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