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Native American Healing With Chaparral

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Native American Healing with Chaparral

In 2006, over 1,399,790 people were diagnosed with cancer in America alone (Jemal 43). For a disease so prevalent, adequate treatment must be found. In 1940, that treatment was discovered; a chemical similar to that of mustard gas was used to treat patients temporarily. At Yale University, it was observed that the gas produced from the nitrogen mustard harmed the cancer cells of the lymphatic region. After witnessing the advantages of this new treatment, it was found that in larger doses, it might cure cancer. The first successful treatment was done at Yale in the mid 1940's. This brings us to today; chemotherapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer, and to some, the most effective. Statistics as of 1999 prove this fact. More than three hundred million cancer patients are cured due to this treatment. It destroys the cancer cells "either by interfering with their growth or by preventing them from reproducing" (Morra 175). Chemotherapy is useful in reducing the size of tumors, making them small enough to be surgically removed. Also, it is effective in relieving pain and controlling unpleasant symptoms (Morra 174-176). Chemotherapy is an effective tool in battling cancer today.

Another type of treatment commonly used is radiation. The underpinnings of radiation therapy date back to 1895 and 1897 when x-rays and radium were discovered. In the following years, scientists discovered that x-rays damaged cells; following that discovery, it became apparent that x-rays were more successful in treating cancer cells than normal cells. There are various types of radiation that treat different areas. Radiation is effective in fighting cancer cells that are unable to be treated by surgery. It has similar effects to that of chemotherapy: shrinking the tumor and relieving symptoms. Overall, radiation is used as a means to treat the symptoms, not cure the cancer all together (Morra 138-139). Radiation in combination with chemotherapy seems to be the best treatment for cancer. But is there something better?

Is the medical world failing to bring the best possible treatment to those in need? Are cancer patients potentially dying because the treatment is ineffective? The answer to both questions is yes. Some patients actually die from the chemotherapy itself. Although potentially effective, the risk is enormous. Common side effects include "nausea, hair loss, anemia, infection, blood clotting problems, mouth problems, diarrhea, constipation, nerve and muscles effects, skin and nail changes, kidney and bladder effects, fluid retention, tooth decay, and sexual/ reproductive changes" (Drum 113-114). There are also many instances reported that deal with more severe side effects but are not as common such as bleeding and uncontrolled pain (131). Chemotherapy is not the safest choice and is just another concern alongside cancer. Radiation therapy is initially painless. Yet as the treatment continues, the reactions become severe. Expected acute side effects consist of skin discoloration, moist desquamation, damage to epithelial surfaces, swelling, infertility, and fatigue. In addition, there are many long term side effects such as fibrosis, hair loss, dryness, and even causing more cancer (Morra 153-156). With pain and infection from chemotherapy and more cancer from radiation, there has to be a safer treatment that is as effective or even better.

Native Americans have, for centuries, practiced their own medical techniques. Medicine men, shamans, along with other spiritual leaders, have implemented the use of herbs and natural plants into their medical treatment. An alternative remedy, chaparral, is useful in the treatment of cancer; this herb dissolves malignant tumors while also treating the lymphatic region (Ferrell 159). Professor Henry D. Wong of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill commented on the Native Americans' practices:

Many Native Americans have a holistic view of health perceiving the mind, body, spirit, and nature as one harmonic process. Illness or disability may be considered a disruption of this harmony. Consequently, medicine and religion are a major part of their healing process. (Wong 33)

Using these practices alongside the modern techniques would greatly enhance the cancer patients' treatment. Where modern medicine falls short, Native American medicine can compensate. While it may appear that Native American medicine is obsolete, the implementation of the ancient herb, chaparral, into modern cancer treatments could benefit those who suffer from the disease today.

Native Americans have used herbs for a variety of reasons including medicinal purposes, which have been overlooked by many modern practitioners. However, when colonial medical practitioners were scarce or when European medicines had failed, colonists began to rely on Native American herbalists. Native Americans have used herbs to help cure physical diseases, injuries, and emotional problems. Medicine men, shamans, and other healers claim to have cured conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, skin rashes, asthma, and cancer. More and more Native American medicine is discovered, and many are found to be effective. Native Americans have developed significant remedies that are now used in the United States and Canada. Approximately one hundred and seventy preparations are official in the United States Pharmacopoeia and National Formulary (Gwilt 1). There is a growing interest in botanicals as part of alternative medical treatments. However, despite this interest, there has been minimal data to support the use of some potentially effective herbs; researchers are failing to produce information proving otherwise. Since this is true, many physicians are unable to practice with the botanicals, making it difficult to observe their efficiency. Nevertheless, physicians and patients are aware of Native American herbs and many of the botanicals are being used in dietary supplements today making consumers more self-reliant (Borchers 339-347). Researching herbs that were once used by Native Americans may benefit in areas where modern treatments seem to fail.

The ancient plant chaparral is prevalent to Native Americans and used as a treatment for a number of conditions. There are a hundreds of plants called chaparral. However, the one that is used medicinally is called Larrea divaricata. It comes from the leaves and stems of the creosote bush, an evergreen desert shrub. Chaparral grows mainly in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and California (Naiman 302). After heating the leaves, Native Americans "Ð'...applied them to the skin to treat wounds, asthma, coughs, skin disorders, venereal sores, warts, blemishes, and ringworm" (American Cancer



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