Three Strange Ingredients of Ancient Medicine


Treatment for sprained ankle and foot

Throughout human history a number of strange and questionable medical treatments have been tested and prescribed to treat a wide array of ailments. Some of these odd tactics did yield effective results: for example, Alexander Fleming famously discovered Penicillin when he accidentally left out one of his samples, causing it to grow Penicillium mold, helping to create the famous antibiotic. However, many other medical practitioners weren’t quite so lucky: many historic treatments used to treat everything from muscle pain to arthritis joint pain have absolutely no root in scientific fact, and were often unappetizing to boot. Consider yourself lucky that the following pain relief treatments and medications were before your time!

Toothache? Try a Dead Mouse
Tooth pain can be incredibly distracting and uncomfortable. To treat it, ancient Egyptians would prepare a paste of mashed mouse, occasionally blended with other ingredients, and apply it to the painful spot. Later, dead mice were also used in Elizabethan England to cure warts, whooping cough, measles, small pox and other conditions.

For Serious Trauma, Apply the Unexpectedly Gruesome “Powder of Sympathy”
In the seventeenth century, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be injured by a thin, sharp sword called a rapier. To treat these wounds, an English diplomat named Sir Kenelm Digby created a remedy called “Powder of Sympathy”. The powder was composed of earthworms, pig’s brains, rust, and mummified corpses, which were ground together and applied not to the patient, but to the offending weapon. Digby believed a process called “sympathetic magic” would cause the wound to heal itself.

Just a Small Dose of Arsenic…
Today, any modern mention of arsenic is more likely to be connected to murder than medicine. However, for centuries, this poisonous substance was used in a number of civilizations to treat several medical conditions. In ancient China, for example, arsenic was known as Pi Shuang, which was used to treat cancer. Later, arsenic was a component in a treatment for malaria and syphilis called Fowler’s solution, which used until the 1950s. Arsenic was also used throughout history to treat diabetes, arthritis joint pain, and acne.

Today, we are fortunate to have access to pain relief products and other medications that treat illness and injury with scientifically proven methods, not to mention governmental regulations that prevent disreputable individuals from selling us arsenic as a treatment for malaria or acne. For example, pain medication is processed by the liver to treat pain receptors in the brain, while pain relief patches directly target the nerves at the site of the discomfort. These methods are unsurprisingly more effective than any “powder or sympathy” or dead mouse could be. Remember this the next time you have arthritis joint pain or muscle aches: instead of trying to wait out your discomfort, try to be thankful you have access to modern pain products and take advantage of them.

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