As unlikely as it may sound, the unimposing tealeaf might be the answer to bioterror worries—most notably anthrax and ricin attacks. Researchers have already learned of green tea’s ability to protect against anthrax, and now, new studies indicate that black tea may offer a similar protection against ricin. Unfortunately, drinking a cup of tea cannot cure anthrax or ricin poisoning, but tea has a promising, science-experiment-filled future ahead. Researchers believe that they will one day be able to use elements contained in tea to begin producing vaccines and cures for ricin poisoning and other bioterror concerns.
The Growing Threat
While anthrax received a lot of publicity when the mail attacks occurred in 2001, the possibility that terrorists will carry out a ricin or anthrax oriented attack has not dissipated. The U.S. District Court in Camden, New Jersey, for example, received an anthrax threat earlier this month. While it was an unsubstantiated threat, it reminds us that anthrax attacks are always a distinct possibility. While there are current vaccines for anthrax exposure, scientists are always searching for additional methods to combat the toxin. Ricin is an equally toxic substance; in many ways it represents a far greater threat than anthrax, in fact, because there is no known vaccine or cure. Another reason that it presents such a powerful threat is because it can be mobilized through our water supply, the air, or via our food supply. As a component of castor beans, ricin is much more easily attainable than anthrax or diseases like smallpox and Ebola. Far from requiring complicated technological knowledge or access, ricin is an easily deployable bioweapon that could potentially impact millions across our country.
It is no secret that violence in the Middle East continues to escalate. As attacks on the United States continue and grow bolder—escalating from roadside bombs to embassy attacks—the likelihood that we will face another attack on U.S. soil increases exponentially. While analysts are divided on the likelihood of a nuclear attack at the hands of a terrorist organization, bioterror attacks are much easier to carry out. Substances like anthrax and ricin can kill large populations using relatively small amounts of the toxins, making cures and vaccines even more important. Because ricin has no known cure, it could prove to be the ideal candidate for a bioweapon in the hands of a terrorist or terrorist organization.
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is found in green tea—though not in black teas—and was established as an anti-anthrax substance years ago. EGCG is already a household name, touted for its ability to prevent and deter heart disease, as well as promoting weight loss and maintenance. EGCG has also been linked to possible treatments for HIV-related dementia; brain, prostate, and bladder cancers; C. difficile infection; and several autoimmune diseases. If research yields the results that leading scientists expect, an EGCG extract could also one day be the answer to some of the most terrifying terrorist threats. Because EGCG has already served to treat so many conventional diseases, scientists seem confident that it can be properly cultivated to be applied to toxins like ricin.
An older study proved that chemicals in English tea can counteract the organisms that are responsibility for the toxicity of anthrax, and it may also be an answer to ricin attacks. Black teas have, according to new scientific research conducted in England, powerful anti-ricin properties, though, as you might imagine, there are limitations to using tea as an anti-toxin. When combined with milk, studies show that the anti-poison properties in tea are mostly negated. Much of this research has, so far, taken place in England, and it will be important to push funding for similar or cooperative research in the U.S. if we are serious about finding an answer to the threats posed by anthrax and ricin.
Should this research receive more funding and attention, ricin and anthrax could be completely wiped out by green and black teas. Polyphenols are the chemicals in English breakfast tea that can counteract ricin and anthrax. With continuing research, scientists should be able to capture the essence of the polyphenols and enhance them, essentially creating anti-ricin or anti-anthrax medications.
While relatively controversial, there are also some claims that garlic could serve as a natural guard against anthrax consumption. It is a relatively well-accepted principal that garlic is an effective (and natural) substitute for antibiotics and does wonders to treat infections. Tube studies show that properties in garlic can effectively counteract the toxins in anthrax, but no human studies have been conducted that corroborate this relationship, and the way that these substances interact inside the human body is often very different from the way they interact in tube studies.
Scientists should re-focus the way they approach finding cures for toxins. Nature is the source of some of the deadliest threats we face, and it is more than possible that the answer to these toxins lies in nature as well. There are plenty of natural, herbal remedies that we use in everyday life to fight off infections, colds, and the like. While the same substances may not work to fight off powerful toxins, there are natural substances that can be enhanced and combined to protect the public from these toxins.
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