Research is near and dear to my heart. Both when I design supplement formulations as well as when I educate through books and talks, I pride myself on making sure that the information I share is as grounded in scientific study as it can be.
I was delighted to read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Carrying the Torch for Basic Research” that quotes Elizabeth Blackburn, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2009 and president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Check it out right here. The post shared that Dr. Blackburn is helping to identify which research questions are on the horizon for scientific review.
In my mind, what she’s doing is in the “most critical decisions for the future” category. Many years ago, medical research was done to learn how the world and our bodies functioned, and researchers looked for any way to improve wellbeing. Funding was scarce, and research was expensive. Colleges would receive endowments from philanthropic individuals and organizations. Competition for the money was fierce. Seeming failures, which always precede success, were expensive and depressing.
Then came the era of the pharmaceutical companies. Research monies began to flow. Although on the surface, clinical studies were funded to learn about healing one condition or another, far too soon the financial endowments became directed toward very specific outcomes, engineered to develop yet one more drug that could produce a financial fortune, and perhaps a modicum of relief to a percentage of patients. Rarely were future health repercussions considered seriously.
In the natural products industry, it’s been much more difficult to find research dollars. We have always been interested in looking at the core biological processes that become imbalanced, creating a condition of un-wellness. We are then committed to identifying natural ways to redirect those systems toward health.
Here’s the bummer. There is no money to be made from researching natural ginger, or maybe milk thistle or licorice. Not unless the substance is molecularly changed in some way so a patent can be given to a company for a “new” product. Those slight changes offer yet more foreign substances to our bodies – yet another unique “can of worms”!
Yet modern medicine demands that we in the supplement industry offer proof of the efficacy of our offerings. They are smacking their lips to get their hands on every natural substance to find a way to make it “better”. Fortunately, the National Institutes of Science have funded the Human Microbiome Project and we are now understanding so much more about those amazing probiotics that live within. Additionally, the positive effects of omega-3s have proven health benefits that are irrefutable.
Dr. Blackburn thankfully states “If you want to make a big impact, you have to go all the way through to understanding disease processes, though the impulse is to treat.” She continues to offer an example of looking at a form of diabetes to observe how the immune cells interact with the body in that condition. Her focus throughout the article seemed to be immune system directed, which I believe is where the answers are nestled. And that brings us, as always, back to the gut.
I look forward to Dr. Blackburn’s new projects highlighting neuroscience, genomics, and immunity. Her questions are process oriented, not focused on creating a new drug. This may not be the answer to our country’s twisted medical research, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
It’s heartening to know that such a brilliant thinker like Dr. Blackburn is at the prow of at least one major research facility.
For the time being let’s all continue to enjoy natural, unprocessed foods along with supportive natural supplements like probiotics and omegas. Let’s exercise our bodies with movements that bring us joy along with good circulation. We can live our research, exhibiting the health benefits that humans have enjoyed throughout the ages and around the world – and we’ll enjoy watching the clinical studies catch up with what we already know!