Search This Blog

Saturday, 30 April 2016


Early medicine amongst the peoples of the Mediterranean and the American Indians was closely linked with pagan religions and superstitions. Sickness was often blamed on gods and demon and medical practice was part of the duties of the priests. Various mystical ceremonies involving chants, prayers and incantations were used to appease the angry gods or ward off the evil spirits.

Linked with this was early surgery where priests diagnosed madness, as well as severe headaches, as the effects of a demon trapped inside the skull. The only possible cure was to release him by means of drilling or trepanning into the skull with sharpened flints in a neat circle to let the demon out.

The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch depicting trepanation (c.1488–1516).

Before carrying out the operation, the priest anesthetized his patient with a mixed dose of herbs and plants. A rectangle or disc of bone from the vault of the skull was removed. Frequently, with the pressure relieved, the pain ceased and, the patient was cured, firmly convinced that this was due to the departure, through the aperture bored by the priests, of the evil spirit. No doubt this procedure also involved the death of many unfortunate patients.

The evil spirits were believed to detest certain substances, especially those which were evil-smelling and of bitter taste. By swallowing such a potion, it was believed the demon would flee the patient's body thus restoring the person to health. As time went on the priest noticed that particular substances, worked consistently well for certain conditions thus introducing the practice of medicine.

The Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, the "father of western medicine",laid the foundation for a rational approach to the treating of the sick  He was instrumental in helping medicine emerge from a mystical and religious basis and become rational and scientific in its approach to the diagnosis and treatment of the patient. Hippocrates was the first to categorize illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic.

Table of contents in a fourteenth-century Hippocratic Corpus manuscript

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the onset of the Early Middle Ages, the Greek tradition of medicine went into decline in Western Europe, as the church looked upon illness as the will of God, a punishment for sin or a test of faith. The best treatment was believed to be prayer, fasting and repentance. Interest in the human body was felt to be sinful.

The Arabs, however, ensured the tradition of Greek medicine continued.The Muslim world had the works of Hippocrates and Galen translated into Arabic, and Islamic physicians engaged in some significant medical research.

The first pharmacies, or drug stores, were established in 754 in Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate.. By the 9th century, these pharmacies were state-regulated.

By the twelfth century in Western Europe the growth of population and increasing urbanization meant a growing need for the provision of hospitals. Increasingly whilst the well-to-do were all treated at home, the poor were cared for in a hospital attached to the local poor house, monastery or convent.

The Church also established a network of cathedral schools and universities where medicine was studied. The role of the Catholic Church in health care during the Middle Ages has been likened to an early version of a welfare state.

Pharmacy-like shops began to appear during the 12th century in Europe In 1240 emperor Frederick II issued a decree by which the physician's and the apothecary's professions were separated.

Medical treatment during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Western Europe was dominated by humoral theory. Humorism was a belief that too much or too little of any of four distinct body fluids in a person directly influenced their temperament and health. Many cures were aimed at freeing the sick of unbalanced humors by induced vomiting, purging, and bleeding. The practice of bleeding, which entailed draining the bad blood from the individual, was particularly popular. Unfortunately this inhumane practice called for releasing more blood than is now known to exist in the whole body and it frequently resulted in death or the need for lifelong care.

The British naval surgeon James Lind published his Treatise of the Scurvy in 1753, in which he showed the effectiveness of citrus fruits in preventing scurvy. Lind was aware that the Dutch had employed citrus fruits for several centuries and his discoveries came as a result of searching for objective evidence of the healing effects of such fruits by doing experiments.

By the late eighteenth century appraising a medical treatment by using scientific techniques was a method being used increasingly frequently in Europe. Not only were new cures being found but some old-fashioned remedies were being shown up for their lack of effectiveness. Especially being questioned was the traditional treatment of bleeding.

Samuel Lee Jnr patented "Bilious Pills" in 1796; he was the first American to patent a medicine. By then English patent medicines were already popular in the USA.

The first known heart medicine was discovered in an English garden. In 1799, physician John Ferriar noted the effect of dried leaves of the common foxglove plant, digitalis purpurea, on heart action. Still used in heart medications, digitalis slows the pulse and increases the force of heart contractions and the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat.

Early medicine bottles

For many centuries medications were generally liquids or powders mixed with water or
another liquid. That was until 1862 when Philadelphian Jacob Dunton devised compressed pills or tablets.

The sale of patent medicines- such as Kennedy's Medical discovery, Kickapoo Indian Sagwa and Hamlin's Wizard Oil- had reached $80 million before the US Government started cracking down on them in 1907.

Just like a human would drink medicine, bees drink the nectar of certain flowers to get rid of illnesses and parasites.

About one quarter of natural medicines have been discovered in rain forests.

No comments:

Post a Comment