The Winds of Change

, March 24, 2015 in Reflective Essays

The winds of change are blowing across the land. What are the signs we are looking for? When we watch for the change from summer to autumn we look for the brilliant transformation of the leaves or a shift in cloud patterns. If we observe nature closely we will realize that it is not when the sun crosses the equinoctal plain that spring begins, but when we feel a particular wind blowing from the southwest. Next we will see the buds begin to burst open and the gradual greening of the land. It is comforting to most nature enthusiasts to be able to recognize these seasonal patterns of change and rely on a measure of predictability. We look to the sky and ask: “Is it going to rain today?” We examine the soil and ponder which plants we might grow in our gardens this year.

Picture this scene from a movie: the camera reveals a large vineyard with a road running through it. A battered pickup truck pulls up and an old man in dungarees gets out and wanders into the vineyard. Next, a modern SUV parks nearby and a young man in a track- suit emerges carrying a clipboard and refractometer. He too walks into the vineyard, on the other side of the road. The old man is eating grapes, smelling the clusters and snapping twigs as he walks along. The young man is squeezing grape juice onto his refractometer, measuring, and recording numbers onto his clipboard. Eventually both men return to the road, meet, and stare at each other. Speaking in unison, they both state: “one more week and they’re ready.” They turn and get into their respective vehicles, driving off in opposite directions. This scene illustrates perfectly the topic of today’s letter.

The National Health Products Directorate (NHPD) has begun a program that seeks to change the way medicine is practiced in Canada. There will be tremendous resources expended in the next decade to bring regulation to those substances which lie somewhere on the continuum between food and drugs and have been called “Health Foods, Herbal Medicines, Supplements, etc.” This regulation is coming because so many people demand pattern recognition and predictability in their products. These people are politicians, scientists, farmers, herbalists, multinational pharmaceutical manufacturers and of course the general public who are the consumers of the natural products. It is interesting to think of putting all these minds “into one room” so to speak, to answer the question “What can we all agree upon here?” In the aforementioned movie, the father and son agree upon the proper harvest date for their wine grapes. Wine has been made for thousands of years without the aid of technology. We need only know the type of grape, the growing region and the harvest year to predict whether or not we would enjoy a particular bottled wine. Until the last century organoleptic testing dominated food and herbal medicine production. Organoleptic testing involves using our five senses and our accumulated experience to determine a general qualitative/quantitative analysis. Are the grapes sweet enough to harvest?

Some of the NHPD regulations will require precise quantitative analysis based on the type of statement made on the product label such as “guaranteed potency.” This requirement will dramatically reduce our choice of herbal products, manufacturers and modality. The cost to implement and maintain these new regulations may seem punitive and certainly favour mega-business, but there is also another cost. Who are the practitioners and medicine-makers of the future? There may soon come a time when the “old man’s” style can no longer be legally practiced or ever be taught in the schools. The “protection” we as a society are invoking may force changes to our medicines and healing practices which we may not really want in the long term. The general public needs to be made aware of their choices – and the possible consequences of those choices – regarding the incoming regulations governed by the NHPD.

Remember. Stay alert. Watch for the signs.