A physician’s job has always been to heal the sick and give advice on how to stay healthy. There were medical treatments, to be sure – leeching, purging, and my personal favorite – eating ground up powdered mummies. Yes. You read that correctly. For thousands of years, eating the ground up mummified remains of long-dead embalmed human beings was considered good medicine. That’s what they taught at them ancient medical schools. The demand for powdered mummies was so great that sometimes hucksters would simply grind up dead beggars and plague victims and sell them as mummies.
The history of medicine is the history of the placebo effect. This mummy-eating practice died out in the 16th century was was replaced by other equally useless procedures – such as the lobotomy to cure mental illness. Hey, let me shove this ice pick through your eyeball and mash up parts of your brain like I’m mashing a potato. The inventor of this procedure received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Medicine. This was the cutting edge of medicine circa 1949. Any criticism of this mashed-brain strategy could be legitimately met by “Did YOU win a Nobel Prize, buddy?”
“The question was not, ‘Should you eat human flesh?’ but, ‘What sort of flesh should you eat?’ ” says Sugg. The answer, at first, was Egyptian mummy, which was crumbled into tinctures to stanch internal bleeding. But other parts of the body soon followed. Skull was one common ingredient, taken in powdered form to cure head ailments. Thomas Willis, a 17th-century pioneer of brain science, brewed a drink for apoplexy, or bleeding, that mingled powdered human skull and chocolate. And King Charles II of England sipped “The King’s Drops,” his personal tincture, containing human skull in alcohol. Even the toupee of moss that grew over a buried skull, called Usnea, became a prized additive, its powder believed to cure nosebleeds and possibly epilepsy. Human fat was used to treat the outside of the body. German doctors, for instance, prescribed bandages soaked in it for wounds, and rubbing fat into the skin was considered a remedy for gout. [continue]
The sisters caring for cognitively impaired elderly nuns in a Midwestern convent spoke to their care recipients in a way that sounded strikingly different to linguistic anthropologist Anna Corwin.
The nuns rarely used “elderspeak” — a loud, slow, simple, patronizing and common form of baby talk for seniors.
Instead, Corwin reports, they told jokes, stories and blessed the sick nuns, all the while speaking to them like they were completely capable, even though their ability to communicate was significantly diminished.
“It is beautiful watching these nuns,” Corwin, a professor at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, said in a phone interview. “They accept decline. They value a person in a sort of inherent way.” [continue]
Doctors have stumbled on an unlikely source for a drug to ward off brain damage caused by strokes: the venom of one of the deadliest spiders in the world.
A bite from an Australian funnel web spider can kill a human in 15 minutes, but a harmless ingredient found in the venom can protect brain cells from being destroyed by a stroke, even when given hours after the event, scientists say.
If the compound fares well in human trials, it could become the first drug that doctors have to protect against the devastating loss of neurons that strokes can cause. [continue]
Thanks to Khurram Wadee for posting a link to this article on Diaspora. That’s how I found it.
FORTALEZA, Brazil — In this historic city by the sea in northeast Brazil, burn patients look as if they’ve emerged from the waves. They are covered in fish skin — specifically strips of sterilized tilapia.
Doctors here are testing the skin of the popular fish as a bandage for second- and third-degree burns. The innovation arose from an unmet need. Animal skin has long been used in the treatment of burns in developed countries. But Brazil lacks the human skin, pig skin, and artificial alternatives that are widely available in the US. (…)
Enter the humble tilapia, a fish that’s widely farmed in Brazil and whose skin, until now, was considered trash. Unlike the gauze bandages, the sterilized tilapia skin goes on and stays on. [continue]
Here’s the article summary: “Years after research contradicts common practices, patients continue to demand them and doctors continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatment.”
And now an excerpt:
A cardiologist recommended that the man immediately have a coronary angiogram, in which a catheter is threaded into an artery to the heart and injects a dye that then shows up on special x-rays that look for blockages. If the test found a blockage, the cardiologist advised, the executive should get a stent, a metal tube that slips into the artery and forces it open.
While he was waiting in the emergency department, the executive took out his phone and searched “treatment of coronary artery disease.” He immediately found information from medical journals that said medications, like aspirin and blood-pressure-lowering drugs, should be the first line of treatment. The man was an unusually self-possessed patient, so he asked the cardiologist about what he had found. The cardiologist was dismissive and told the man to “do more research.” Unsatisfied, the man declined to have the angiogram and consulted his primary-care doctor. [continue]
David Fajgenbaum was the fittest of his friends at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school, a 6-foot-3 gym addict and former quarterback at Georgetown. His mammoth hands seemed more suited to spiraling footballs than the fine fingerwork a doctor-in-training might need. He had endurance to match, taking multiple hits and returning to the field to play on.
“This guy was a physical specimen,” said his former roommate, Grant Mitchell, who used to walk to work with him. When they would arrive at the hospital for his obstetrics rotation, his friend recalled, “he would basically coerce me into doing pull-ups on the tree outside.”
In July 2010, that all changed. The 25-year-old woke up at night drenched in sweat. His lymph nodes were swollen. He felt stabs of abdominal pain, and odd red bumps began sprouting across his chest. Most bizarre of all, he felt very tired — so tired that he began slipping into empty exam rooms between patients, stealing five-minute naps to get through the day.
“Guys, I think I’m dying,” he recalled telling his friends.
A visit to the emergency room confirmed his fears. A doctor told him that his liver, kidneys and bone marrow were not working properly. Even more troubling, the doctor had no idea why his body was failing. “What do you think is going on?” he remembers the doctor asking him. [continue]
Stories abound that undermine the notion that elite athletes are healthy. From the running world, marathoner Alberto Salazar, at the age of 48, suffered a heart attack and lay dead for 14 minutes before a cardiologist placed a stent in a blocked artery, saving his life. Micah True, the ultra-marathoner and protagonist of the bestselling book Born to Run, went for a 12-mile run in the New Mexico wilderness and was later found dead.
Of course, these tragic tales are preceded by the origin story of an endurance athlete running himself, literally, to death. An enlarged, thickened heart with patchy scar tissue is common in long-term endurance athletes and is dubbed “Pheidippides cardiomyopathy” after the 40-year-old running messenger (and prototypical masters endurance athlete) who died after bringing the news of Greek victory at the battle of Marathon to Athens. Pheidippides was a hemerodrome, (an all-day running courier in Ancient Greece), and he had run 240km over two days to request help from Sparta against the Persians at Marathon, before expiring after running the additional 42km (26.2 miles) back from the battlefield. We celebrate his death by running marathons.
These deaths are even more alarming when you consider the subjects — highly trained athletes in what many would consider peak physical condition. Isn’t exercise supposed to prevent us from falling to a heart attack? [read the whole article]
If you’re an endurance athlete, does this give you pause for thought?
New genetic research from an international team including McMaster University, University of Helsinki, Vilnius University and the University of Sydney, suggests that smallpox, a pathogen that caused millions of deaths worldwide, may not be an ancient disease but a much more modern killer that went on to become the first human disease eradicated by vaccination.
Well, how cool is that?
The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, raise new questions about the role smallpox may have played in human history and fuels a longstanding debate over when the virus that causes smallpox, variola, first emerged and later evolved in response to inoculation and vaccination.
“Scientists don’t yet fully comprehend where smallpox came from and when it jumped into humans,” says evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar, senior author of the study, director of the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre and a researcher with Michael G. DeGroote Institute of Infectious Disease Research. “This research raises some interesting possibilities about our perception and age of the disease.”
Smallpox, one of the most devastating viral diseases ever to strike humankind, had long been thought to have appeared in human populations thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, India and China, with some historical accounts suggesting that the pharaoh Ramses V -who died in 1145 BC — suffered from smallpox.
In an attempt to better understand its evolutionary history, [continue]
If you have the slightest interest in medical history, medieval images, or just plain cool and fascinating stuff, go read The Many Lives of the Medieval Wound Man at The Public Domain Review. Article summary:
Sliced, stabbed, punctured, bleeding, harassed on all sides by various weaponry, the curious image of Wound Man is a rare yet intriguing presence in the world of medieval and early modern medical manuscripts. Jack Hartnell explores this enigmatic figure’s journey through the centuries.
The article includes fantastic images and all sort of interesting information.
Scientists in Sweden are launching their own mead — an alcoholic beverage made from a fermented mix of honey and water — based on old recipes they say could help in the fight against antibiotic resistance.
Together with a brewery, the scientists, who have long studied bees and their honey, have launched their own mead drink: Honey Hunter’s Elixir.
Lund University researcher Tobias Olofsson said mead had a long track record in bringing positive effects on health.
“Mead is an alcoholic drink made with just honey and water, and it was regarded as the drink of the gods and you could become immortal or sustain a better health if you drank it,” Olofsson said. “It was drunk by the Vikings for example and other cultures such as the Mayas, the Egyptians, and it was a drink that was regarded as a very beneficial drink.”
Honey production is key to the research. In previous research published in 2014, Olofsson and Alejandra Vasquez discovered that lactic-acid bacteria found in the honey stomach of bees, mixed with honey itself, could cure chronic wounds in horses that had proved resistant to treatment.
They said their research had proved that these bacteria had the power to collaborate and kill off all the human pathogens they have been tested against, including resistant ones. They are doing so by producing hundreds of antibacterial antibiotic-like substances. [continue]
Well. Alcohol + Vikings + history + medicine. So much cool stuff in one article!
It’s 1898. You wake up on a cold morning and the full effects of a cold hit you: coughing, sneezing, and a terrible fever. Like any self-respecting American in the latter half of the 19th century, you pop on over to your local post office or hairdresser in search of a remedy. There, you buy a small vial of liquid with some fantastic name like “Dr. Seth Arnold’s Balsam” or “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”. The packaging claims that it cures anything from a toothache to a full-blown cold just five minutes flat. What the packaging doesn’t say, of course, is that the ‘medicine,’ which is applied topically to the skin, contains opium, morphine, and alcohol.
Welcome to the world of patent medicine.
Patent medicines reached peak popularity at the turn of the 20th century. While the name implies some sort of regulation behind the creation of these compounds, nothing could be further from the truth. Patent medicines were anything that people trademarked and sold as medicine–whether or not they actually worked was beside the point. Manufacturers intentionally suppressed the true ingredients of their remedies in order to woo new customers. If it doesn’t actually cure your cold, the high dose of cocaine might trick you into thinking otherwise. [continue]
The article includes images. You’ve got to see them, my dears.
The first time Grigory Kessel held the ancient manuscript, its animal-hide pages more than 1,000 years old, it seemed oddly familiar.
A Syriac scholar at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, Dr. Kessel was sitting in the library of the manuscript’s owner, a wealthy collector of rare scientific material in Baltimore. At that moment, Dr. Kessel realized that just three weeks earlier, in a library at Harvard University, he had seen a single orphaned page that was too similar to these pages to be coincidence.
The manuscript he held contained a hidden translation of an ancient, influential medical text by Galen of Pergamon, a Greco-Roman physician and philosopher who died in 200 A.D. It was missing pages and Dr. Kessel was suddenly convinced one of them was in Boston.
Dr. Kessel’s realization in February 2013 marked the beginning of a global hunt for the other lost leaves, a search that culminated in May with the digitization of the final rediscovered page in Paris. [continue]
I love it when a story relates to so many of my interests. (History, books, medicine, old manuscripts, digitization, Vatican library… and on and on!)