A brief review of the application and pharmacology of ethnomedicines of Indigenous Australians

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Abstract

Objective:

Indigenous Australians suffer higher mortality and have statistically worse outcomes for many chronic disease states than the non-Indigenous population. Although many of these people are prescribed pharmaceutical drugs for their illnesses, some still use medicines that were traditional to their culture. This report reviews some of the traditional medicines used for ailments seen in Indigenous Australian communities.

Design:

A literature search was conducted, with the period between the publication of an ‘Aboriginal Pharmacopoeia’ in 1988 and ‘current’ our target interval for searching. The ethics of publishing knowledge belonging to Aboriginal people is briefly discussed in this context.

Results:

Ailments were grouped into communicable diseases, pain and inflammation, skin disorders and gastrointestinal disorders. Although cancer is regarded as a disease of the ‘white man’, it is briefly discussed in the context that several traditional medicines and foods may have provided some protective effects. Where known, the ethnopharmacology of these medicines is discussed, as well as a brief description of their preparation and application.

Conclusion:

Some Indigenous Australians continue to use traditional medicines. We have tabulated these according to ailment, and have listed pharmacological actions where known. What is not known, however, is their potential to interact with pharmaceutical drugs. Further study in this area is needed to optimise health outcomes for Indigenous Australians, especially those in remote communities.

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