How are medicines made? How do medicines know which part of the body to help?

Imagine you’re a child living thousands of years ago. You get a serious illness and you’re running a high fever. How would your parents help you? How would a doctor help you?


Fun Facts

  • The first medicines were plants. People discovered – probably accidentally – that some plants seemed to relieve pain or cure ailments. If you were a child living even a hundred years ago, many of the medicines you took would have come from plants.
  • Today, modern doctors and scientists still use plants to make medicine. They are able to study and prepare them in ways that make them safer and more reliable. Scientists have also been able to analyze the chemical properties of medicinal plants. They can now make many of these chemicals in a laboratory.
  • Medicines come in many forms, including syrups, chewable pills, injections, and pills that can’t be chewed. Syrups are flavored to make them taste better. Capsules are pills that are swallowed. They have a thin outer coating that dissolves in the stomach.
  • Prescription medicines are medicines that are made in a laboratory. They are carefully controlled and can only be purchased with a doctor’s orders. Herbal remedies aren’t as carefully controlled. They are made from plants and are similar in some ways to medicines that were used long ago. Some of them can be effective, but some don’t work and can even cause harm. It’s a good idea to learn about any medicine you’re going to take.
  • Medicines do many different things. Some, such as antibiotics, kill bacteria that cause illness. Others give your body something it needs. People with diabetes might take insulin because their bodies don’t make it, for example. Many medicines make you feel better so your body can heal itself. Cold medicines and fever-reducing medicines fall into this category.
  • When you take pain medicine like Tylenol®, it doesn’t just take the pain away from the spot that’s hurting. It blocks hormones that help your entire body feel pain.


Questions and Answers

Question: Are medicines made from anything else?

Answer: Most medicines are made in laboratories or they’re made from plants. Did you know that the rain forest is Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet? Over half the plant-based medicines in the world come from plants that grow here. But, some medicines actually start out as poisons. It’s true! Snake venom has been used to treat cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease.