Know why some people's stomachs burn after they swallow an aspirin tablet? Or why a swig of grapefruit juice with breakfast can raise blood levels of some medicines in certain people? Understanding some of the basics of the science of pharmacology will help answer these questions, and many more, about your body and the medicines you take.
So, then, what's pharmacology? Despite the field's long, rich history and importance to human health, few people know much about this biomedical science. One pharmacologist joked that when she was asked what she did for a living, her reply prompted an unexpected question: "Isn't 'farm ecology' the study of how livestock impact the environment?"
Of course, this booklet isn't about livestock or agriculture. Rather, it's about a field of science that studies how the body reacts to medicines and how medicines affect the body. Pharmacology is often confused with pharmacy, a separate discipline in the health sciences that deals with preparing and dispensing medicines.
For thousands of years, people have looked in nature to find chemicals to treat their symptoms. Ancient healers had little understanding of how various elixirs worked their magic, but we know much more today. Some pharmacologists study how our bodies work, while others study the chemical properties of medicines, Others investigate the physical and behavioral effects medicines have on the body. Pharmacology researchers study drugs used to treat diseases, as well as drugs of abuse. Since medicines work in so many different ways in so many different organs of the body, pharmacology research touches just about every area of biomedicine.