Dr. John Riddle,
News Services, 919/515-3470
Remedies May Hold Clues for Future Medical Breakthroughs
An ancient herbal medicinal recipe that has proven
to be an effective treatment for modern-day diabetes
may cause doctors to look to the past for clues about
unlocking future medical breakthroughs, according to
a North Carolina State University historian.
Dr. John Riddle, professor of history at NC State
who specializes in the history of medicine, discovered
that based on a 2002 survey of diabetes patients hospitalized
in Saudi Arabia, 17.8 percent of patients surveyed
were treated with herbal remedies. Those patients were
taking herbal compounds almost exactly the same as
those listed in medieval herbal medicine recipes used
to treat kidney disorders.
findings were publishing in a recent edition of The
Journal of Nephrology.
An examination of several early medieval monastic
medical manuscripts reveals that ancient herbal recipes
dating back to as early as 500 B.C. could have effectively
treated those kidney disorders, known today as diabetes.
Those recipes included myrrh, cumin, fenugreek, aloes
and one additional herb that could not be identified.
A plant mixture of ales and cinnamon bark, for example,
has a blood glucose lowering effect. A combination
of ales and myrrh gums effectively increased glucose
tolerance. Recent studies in such journals as the Journal
of Pharmacy and Pharmacology and Diabetes Research indicate that medieval monastic recipes may be alternative
treatments for insulin resistance in adult-onset diabetes.
Riddle has extensively studied ancient medical journals
that recorded urinary and kidney problems as well as
the herbal remedies used to treat these symptoms.
“There is a perception that ancient physicians
dealt with superstition and their prescriptions included
snakes, snails and puppy dog tails and things like
that,” Riddle says. “It doesn’t get
into the history books, but these ancient physicians
were able to diagnose and treat what we now know to
“The time period from 500-1100 B.C. is generally
Dark Ages of Medicine.’ The only thing that is
dark about it was our ignorance of it.”
Riddle says his findings have present-day applications
to modern medicine, as well. He says scientists are
discovering many agents used in present-day drug treatments
were agents that ancient physicians used in their medicinal
“We are just now discovering some of the drugs
that they were using,” Riddle says. “There
are many plants that they used in treatments that we
haven’t even begun to examine. Those remedies
would give us powerful targets and indications of where
we conduct future drug research.”