Every time Westerners study people living in the natural world as hunter gatherers, or peoples living from shifting agriculture in remote forested areas, they find that people have a hugely detailed knowledge of the medicinal and tonic properties of the wild plants and animals around them. Altho' degenerative diseases such as heart disease and cancer is extraordinarily rare (or, more correctly, 'ordinarily rare' - freedom from cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease is the natural condition for the human animal, and affliction with such conditions is actually 'extra-ordinary') in such communities, various aches, pains, malaise and the like were - and still are - treated with local plants and animals. Even chimpanzees have been observed seeking out the leaves of certain plants when they are obviously 'off color'. Plants contain powerful and sometimes dangerous chemicals. There is a well known saying which sums up the dangers - 'there is a thin line between pharmacology and toxicology'. In other words, while the correct dose may help you, too high a dose may make you very sick indeed.
Tonics are not medicines. They act in a general way, possibly mimicking or stimulating the production of certain hormones. The best 'tonic' is excellent natural food, excellent sleep, freedom from worry, and regular exercise. This is, of course, the 'council of perfection'. For most of us, stress of one kind or another is a reality of daily life. In the heirachy of 'good things', excellent natural food, strategic supplements, and a regular appropriate exercise program come first.
But if those 'majors' are ticked off, then a natural tonic can be useful in coping with on - going stress, or demand for peak physical performance. If you can afford it. The two best known tonics, deer velvet and ginseng, are not cheap. However, of all the claimed 'tonics', these two have the best record of efficacy.
Deer shed their bony antlers every year. The new antlers are a live tissue that grows rapidly under the influence of a heavily blood engorged velvety textured outer 'skin'. The blood carries hormones which stimulate the growth of the antlers, and minerals to form the large bony structures. As the antlers reach full size, this skin starts to die off, and is finally shed. Peoples of China and Korea have long prized this actively growing tissue as a tonic. Commercially, the growing antlers are removed under anesthetic, dried, and then sliced thinly. The slices are steeped to make a tonic drink. Blood caught as the antlers are removed is regarded as the most potent tonic of all.
Far fewer investigations have been done on this traditional oriental tonic than on ginseng. Tests at Otago University in New Zealand showed those using deer antler had almost twice the improvement in a strength test relative to those not taking the tonic. Rowers, swimmers, a triathlete and a surf lifesaver trialling the use of deer antler in sport have set personal best times, reached, or exceeded their previous top ranking performances. White blood cell production increased, an indication of immune system stimulation.
Further trials showed those faster recovery from exercise induced muscle tissue damage in those athletes taking dietary supplements of New Zealand deer antler.
"The velvet supplements affected bloodstream levels of creatine kinase. Creatine kinase indicates muscle tissue damage. Significantly lower blood level increases were noted in athletes taking the velvet supplement for two weeks, compared with those on a placebo. The athletes on the supplement also recovered from muscle soreness 24 hours earlier."
Dr. J. Suttie, Agresearch Ltd, reported in 'Rural News', August 7, 2000
Ginseng Panax quinquefolium, P. schinseng
Ginseng contains plant biochemicals (anabolic steroid like components such as panaxatriol and panaxosides) which may mimic hormones produced by the adrenal cortex, thus 'sparing' it from exhaustion. Adrenal cortex hormones, and by extension possibly ginseng, increases blood sugar levels, and regulates and optimizes the mineral balance in cells. The purpose is to have the bodies metabolic processes in peak condition to meet a stressful situation. This is a biochemical 'adaptive reaction' to felt stress. Constant stress, however, can lead to 'adrenal exhaustion' - the adrenal glands enlarge and exhaust key biochemicals necessary for production of the 'anti stress hormones'.
Tests on laboratory animals have shown that those given ginseng extracts have not just managed to cope much better with stressful situations such as swimming in chilled water, they have also lived longer. Ginseng may be most useful for people who are either intermittently or chronically in unavoidably stressful situations, and who can't or won't take a holiday and get some exercise and good quality sleep.
As with all chemicals, it is probably better to use lower doses if used regularly.
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