|Women shopping at an herb and spice store, |
Aleppo,Syria, 2007. Click on photos to enlarge.
Advances in medicine during the Abbasid Caliphate (8th to 13th centuries) included the establishment of hospitals, surgical methods, medical encyclopedias, medical schools and the standardization of botanical preparations. The western reaches of the Islamic empire reached into what is now
As an example of how one of these might show up as a modern dietary supplement ingredient, frankincense (Boswellia serrata) contains various boswellic acids, which can be concentrated into a Boswellia extract. Boswellic acids have been shown to inhibit the inflammation pathway. In clinical trials, Boswellia extracts have demonstrated promising effects in osteoarthritis, colitis and asthma.
|In many cultures, traditional medicines include animal|
parts in addition to plants. This shop has starfish and
turtle shells in addition to herbs, spices and food.
A survey of Arab practitioners in the Middle Eastern region provides evidence that TAM does not have this forward-looking momentum. Practitioners considered to be knowledgeable in their trade inherited the practice from their fathers or male relatives, or learned it as an apprentice. The survey's authors mentioned that the number of practitioners they were able to locate was fewer than reported in earlier surveys. There was limited exchange of information among healers, and no systematic instruction of the next generation of healers. The healers either sourced their herbs from the wild - limiting them to what grew locally - or purchased products from traditional Arab pharmacies. On average, each healer used only 22 botanical products in their practice - far fewer than the 200-300 that ethnobiologists had identified as still in common use. On the bright side, there are attempts to establish research/teaching centers, including gardens for medicinal plants.
To remain vibrant, any traditional medicine requires schools to continue to graduate practitioners, agreed upon definitions for botanical materials, stable sources of those plants and a population of consumers seeking traditional treatments. Given the current world dominance of “Western” medicine, advocates of traditional medicine may also try to apply evidence-based research methods to traditional practices. This typically involves identification of the active compounds in plant extracts, followed by evaluation through human studies. This approach can be conducted at regional universities. Or students from the region who have moved to other countries to complete their advanced education could conduct research there on treatments they were familiar with from childhood.