The Rise of Natural Medicine
Herbs and supplements have been used for thousands of years to treat both acute and chronic illnesses and other conditions. Natural medicine in modern pharmaceutical sciences focuses on the derived benefits of vitamins, minerals, and herbs found in plants that exist in nature. Herbals are still commonly used as a complement or alternative in modern medicine.
The rise of natural medicine has put the spotlight on pharmacognosy, one of the oldest modern sciences studied today. What does pharmacognosy entail? How do herbs and supplements impact modern medicine, and how does the University of Florida’s online master’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry prepare students to utilize natural medicines?
Introduction to Pharmacognosy
Pharmacognosy is commonly offered as a component of a master’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry rather than a standalone program. The National Institutes of Health define pharmacognosy as the study of the chemical composition and pharmacological actions of crude drugs of plant and animal origin (in the form of tinctures, teas, poultices, powders, and other herbal formulations) and their isolated components. It incorporates authentication and the quality control of such drugs, based on macroscopic and microscopic examinations.
Pharmacognosy research efforts over time have transitioned from focusing on the identification of drugs to the isolation of active principles (chemical composition) and the investigation of biological activity (pharmacological actions).
Impact of Herbs and Supplements on Modern Medicine
The study of natural medicines has played a major role in the discovery and development of new drugs and therapies based upon what already exists in nature. Pharmaceutical chemists have conducted research in recent years in drug discovery from medicinal plants. These modern approaches involve botanical, computational, phytochemical, biological, and molecular techniques.
Discoveries made by chemists working with extracts of natural origin including plants and animals offered new leads in the battle to develop drugs to combat cancer, Alzheimer’s, malaria, and other diseases. Examples of popular natural medicines used today include chondroitin (for the treatment of osteoarthritis), echinacea (targets the common cold and ulcers), and ginkgo biloba (which improves memory and mental function, while increasing blood flow). Their efficacy is not necessarily proven, but it does illustrate the many uses for natural herbs and medicines. Other examples of naturally occurring drugs that served as lead structures in the development of new medicines are opiates from poppies or salicylic acid from willow tree bark.
Preparation with a Pharmaceutical Chemistry Master’s Degree
The online program at UF offers students a chance to work with natural medicine and learn about the impact of herbs and supplements on modern pharmaceutical chemistry. While the overall focus of the program is on the greater field of pharmaceutical chemistry, there are two courses that introduce natural medicine, herbs, and supplements to students: Herbal & Dietary Supplements and Natural Medicinal Products. Both courses are offered as electives in the program.
The Herbal & Dietary Supplements course covers the most important and commonly used herbal and dietary supplements currently on the market, and includes up-to-date information about traditional and clinical uses, recommended dosages, and potential drug interactions. The Natural Medicinal Products course introduces students to procedures and processes associated with the development, production, and use of drugs of natural origin.
Overall, students completing UF’s online master’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry will have the knowledge required to contribute to the pharmaceutical field both now and in the future.