The Medicine Hunter's Year in Review

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Published December 28, 2011

| FoxNews.com

Bam - the year is slipping away to the last few hours, and it’s hard to know where the time goes.

Over the past year, many things have happened health-wise in the U.S. On the most negative and challenging side, we have seen unceasing increases in obesity across all ages. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are fast companions. Even as we receive more advanced information about how to eat, exercise and prevent disease, we are losing the battle of the bulge, and are in full fat epidemic. Rates of diabetes are soaring, and unless our general population goes on a forced diet plan, this trend will continue. We can blame our poor eating habits for all of it.

At the same time, there has been a tremendous increase in the use of Ritalin and other psychotropic drugs for children, many of whom are diagnosed with utterly questionable disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s funny - you don’t see these disorders in other countries, and it makes me wonder if we aren’t just drugging our children and damaging their formative brains because we can’t get it together to demand better food in schools, more recess time, daily physical education and less time planted in a trance in front of the TV or computer.

Whatever the truth is, more children are taking medicine than ever before, and this is terribly sad for everyone.

Americans continue to lead the world in the use of antidepressants. What do we have to be so depressed about? Some estimates place our national use of antidepressants at 70 percent of the total global use of these drugs. Have we simply forgotten how to cope with life’s problems? Why do we drug ourselves up, down and sideways? Is there something unique to Americans that we must gobble pills for every little thing?

Food contaminated by the potent bacteria listeria made the news in a big way, and many people died as a result of this outbreak. Is there a silver lining? Perhaps. More people became aware of some basics regarding safer food preparation. There are many “bugs” out there, and they can definitely harm, or even kill you. We will see if greater awareness helps next time around.

Related: 6 Steps to Avoiding Food Contamination 

Now on to happier things: Cocoa and its product chocolate continue to make news, for greatly improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, certain forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes, and for enhancing mental function and mood. No, this is not an April Fool’s joke. Pure, organic, non-alkalized cocoa appears to be the healthiest thing you can put into your body after water. And semi-sweet, dark organic chocolate is right up there, too. Stop feeling guilty about chocolate, and feel happy that it’s the best thing for you.

We have seen steady advances in the development of drugs for various forms of cancer, from unusual places like scorpion toxin, coral reefs and various venomous creatures. It turns out that the seas in particular are chock full of potential life-saving drugs. If we don’t destroy all sea life with incessant pollution and global warming due to high carbon emissions, we may be able to save lots of lives.

Related: The Importance of Drugs From the Sea

In the “men playing with food” department, Dr. Manny and I have eaten some of the most hideous things just for the camera. There is no excuse for it, really. Our behavior is clearly indefensible. But this year we ate the “holy grail” of truly horrific foods: balut. It’s a partially-formed embryo inside a cooked egg, and yes, it’s challenging to swallow. What’s the matter with us? Stay tuned for more sophomoric antics, as Manny has promised to eat fried eyeballs. Eek.

The common herb turmeric made the news repeatedly this past year, for pain relief, as an anti-inflammatory, and as an aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. This cheap yellow spice appears to be one of the most powerful medicines on Earth, and we will likely see more science on turmeric in 2012.

Related: Curry Drug Could Help Rebuild Brain Cells After Stroke

If you browse the Medicine Hunter archives on Fox News Health, you’ll see that I covered some new super fruits like gac and maqui, gave a rationale for the age-old remedy of gin-soaked raisins (yes, they work for joint pain), and shared information on natural sinus relief, better digestion, the use of hallucinogens for well-being, toad sucking and great herbs for skin. I drank both cockroach tea and squirrel poo tea (a Chinese remedy) on TV, and introduced you to a man whose idea of getting groceries is picking wild plants in New York’s Central Park.

There will be more! As long as people have health needs, we will report on the latest and greatest. I personally wish you all a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year, and promise to keep the hits coming in 2012.

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide.  His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com

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