Herbs and Doritos?


Photo of Cool Ranch Dorito components from the new book Ingredients by Dwight Eschliman and Steve Ettlinger.

When I educate pharmacists about herbs (which I do a lot of), one of the things which is hard for them to grasp is the chemical complexity of plant medicines. It's understandable, because to them, 3 drugs in one person is a lot to figure out when it comes to safety and interactions. So you can imagine their uneasiness when you are talking about 100 chemicals in one plant.

At the same time, I think plants are often getting undue scrutiny for their ability to modulate drug metabolism (aka herb-drug interactions). It's not that they can't do this, it's just that they are treated with fear when other things which can strongly affect the therapeutic pharmaceutical outcome isn't even given a second glance. Like coffee. Or some of the weirdly chemical foods out there...

When I speak about chemical complexity in plants and safety concerns, I often bring up the big "melting pot" of life / diet / drugs / herbs / poly-pharmacy. And one of the things I think is a huge issue: chemical complexity in non-natural foods. Meaning lots of synthetic chemicals which are combined to make a "food" without really looking at the health impacts, or in this case, the possible affects of drug metabolism of those many (sometimes powerfully biologically active) chemicals.

In their new book, Ingredients, photographer Dwight Eschliman and author Steve Ettlinger deconstructed popular processed foods and food additives, stripping them down to their chemical components. Behold, Cool Ranch Doritos, 34 ingredients total, including three artificial colors, as well as 10 flavors and chemicals that add up to cheddar cheese. It's an interesting way to interact with this complicated concept.

Should we be looking at many of those with the same, of not more, scrutiny than we look at how our ginger tea might impact our dosage of statins? I think so.

Bevin Clare