The interactions of humans with the physical world have always been extensive. In fact, ancient people's relationship or association with the earth was clean as well as nurturing. The earth fulfilled all the basic requirements essential for their survival. It looked after them by providing air for breathing, water for drinking, foods for their sustenance, and various materials for arranging their shelter, different substances to sustain their health and happiness and also scenic beauties for them to take delight in. Apart from a few and rare extreme situations, the earth has never been toxic for them. In other words, the ancient people never felt that the earth was dangerous for them, as it never caused them any harm.
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Nevertheless, it is really unfortunate that at times even these people caused harm to their world. They disturbed the ecological balance by hunting in excess and also by divesting the earth of its green vegetation, felling trees for making their shelters and using the wood for fuel. These people were basically nomads and moved from one settlement to another in a different area when the land where they lived became exhausted and was unable to support them further.
With the passage of time, many new civilizations came into existence, while the population swelled. This led people to leave their rural inhabitations and flock to the urban regions and cities. The earth, which was once clean, now began to get dirty and overcrowded. People started disposing off their garbage on the streets, while polluted water from their homes and sewage also started flowing down the streets. Even the water used for drinking purpose became polluted. Soon people started falling ill as a result of such unhygienic conditions. In addition, several homes also turned out to be unhealthy for living as lighting fires indoors and absence of proper ventilation made the atmosphere polluted. Worse still, many people shared their houses with domestic animals that fed on fragments scattered on the floor. Such circumstances were ideal for rodents to thrive and these consecutively spread contagious diseases making people further ill.
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In ancient times, humans were not able to comprehend the physical cause of the diseases they suffered from. As a result, they actually developed beliefs that their ailments were spiritual matters and that the supernatural forces were responsible for them. Therefore, for several centuries, medicines were actually a combination of sensible therapies, superstitions, magic and even religion. Hence it is not surprising that their first physicians were the medicine men and women of those times.
In fact, the ancient Greeks were the first to detach medicine from religion. They were also the first to formulate the original principles related to scientific medicine. And by the time the sixth century came to an end, the Greeks were successful in working out the doctrine of humours that actually formed the foundation of ancient therapeutic pathology. For several centuries, people were of the view that it was essential to achieve an appropriate balance of the four humours, which included blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm, for a person to remain healthy.
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In due course of time, it may possibly be expected that every culture would be able to create its individual and exceptional system for medical treatment. However, nothing like this actually happened. In reality, the documented history of various different cultures as well as countries reveals medical techniques that are almost similar, with slight local variations. What is interesting is that several of these therapies were developed more or less at the same time.
Among the various crude treatment methods followed in the ancient times, perhaps bloodletting was most favourite. However, this therapy was never used on people who were very young or aged. The objective of the bloodletting treatment was to purify as well as maintain the equilibrium of the four humours by means of getting rid of what was called 'bad blood'. In fact, medicine men and women of those times used bleeding as a means to treat fever, abscesses, headaches, distended spleens, diseases related to the eyes, mouth and head, and also gynaecological problems. On the other hand, bleeding was used in the form of a 'balancing' therapy for hemorrhage, irrespective whether it occurred due to wounds, ripped blood vessels, or childbirth.
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There were various bloodletting techniques and the most common among them was to cutting a vein open to redirect the entire blood from the affected area or by using leeches from fresh water - the second method was considered to be milder. In the beginning, all bloodletting therapies were done by the ancient physicians. However, after the setting up of university schools for medicine around 1,000 A.D., this task was performed by people like barbers, who were provided some training as surgeons. In fact, physicians of that time, who were trained at universities, considered performing bloodletting treatments to be below their dignity, as the status of surgeons and barber-surgeons was inferior to them. Even the status of the bathhouse keepers, who often gave their leeches on hire to their clients and the apothecaries, was below that of the physicians who received training at the universities.
Another preferred technique for bloodletting was called 'cupping'. While performing cupping, the medicine men and women burned a little piece of tow or hemp in a cup. When the hemp had burned out completely, they placed the hot cup on the patient's affected skin, which was lubricated to some extent. Soon, the cup was filled with 'bad' blood through a suction process. In case the medical practitioners did not cut open the patient's skin during the treatment, they allowed the cup to remain on the affected place till it dropped from there on its own. This usually resulted in the formation of a blister packed with blood. In those days, it was believed that placing a cupping glass on one's stomach was a foolproof way to cure seasickness.
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Treatment using the bloodletting technique started much before Christ's birth and it continued to be a popular treatment method, precisely speaking till the 19th century. It is interesting to note that all civilizations throughout the world have practiced bloodletting or the bleeding therapy. In fact, this therapy is still practised in some parts of the world, including North America, but its popularity has waned over the years. Today, it is practised seldom and whenever it is practised, it is done for practical reasons. Till this day, you can avail leeches to get rid of bad blood accumulated due to bruises or black eyes. They are also available for removing blockage from the region around any amputated limb that has been reattached.
In ancient times, physicians also used another technique to balance the humours by means of drainage. In this case, they induced a chronic reaction as a continuing wound or running sore. They were able to maintain this running sore for a prolonged period releasing the humours from the body constantly. In fact, the counter-irritation technique was as popular as bloodletting for common treatment of conditions like asthma and paralysis. The easiest means of counter-irritation therapy included producing a blister by means of applying a poultice prepared from a blistering agent called cantheride. The therapists allowed the poultice to remain till it led to the formation of a blister of the desired size.
At times, the therapists directly applied a hot instrument having various different shapes and called cautery to the skin to produce a counter-irritation. In fact, treatment of different diseases necessitated production of blisters in dissimilar numbers. In addition, they also considered the variety of designs vis-à-vis the placement of the blisters on the skin to be of great importance while treating any disease. Besides using a solid cautery, in ancient times, physicians also used boiling fluids such as oil, honey, wax or syrup to the purpose of cauterization (formation of blisters by applying heat). In fact, they continued applying the cautery till the skin was shrivelled and produced a sizzling sound as well as a toxic smell.
Physicians continue to use cauterization even to this day, but its use is much restricted. Currently, cauterization is mainly used for treating nosebleeds. However, in present times, instead of any hot apparatus or liquids, physicians generally use an electric or chemical cautery for cauterizing the skin and the blood vessels inside the nose.
There is no culture in the world that has not used enemas (fluid injections, especially administered into the rectum). People used enemas in the form of a cleansing procedure, but it commonly formed the initial treatment for nearly all types of ailments, health disorders and injuries. Enemas were also employed to treat diarrhea. In ancient times, Greeks as well as Egyptians regularly used enemas to heal wounds sustained during any battle. There was a time when enemas were given only by physicians. In fact, for several ancient physicians, it was necessary to administer an enema prior to bleeding. Occasionally, physicians also administered medications as well as nutriments into the body through the enemas.
Several cultures across the world employed enemas as a routine and ritual cleansing with the view to sustain good health. Even to this day, a number of cultures in different parts of the world employ enemas as an important therapy for almost all types of health conditions. While enemas may be an important part of most detoxification programs, presently, many physicians continue to use enemas to provide relief from severe constipation.
Cathartics, often also known as purgatives, are basically substances that are used orally and they result in active bowel movements. In earlier times, people were of the view that constipation was an ailment and not a symptom of a disease. As a result, they used cathartics very often to rinse out the digestive tract.
For several centuries now, people have been using cathartics. However, they are almost obsolete now, primarily owing to the toxicity of many of the cathartics, which were once preferred by people. For instance, preferred cathartic called calomel was particularly unsafe, as it upsets the mineral balance in the body, besides resulting in mercury poisoning. Similarly, croton oil, which was also used in the form of a cathartic, caused formation of blisters on the skin. What is worse, many people are also reported to have died following the use of croton oil as cathartic, even in small doses of just 20 drops.
Oft times, physicians considered giving cathartics to be a vital part of their treatment regimen, as they helped to cleanse as well as get rid of the maleficent humours. Specific purgatives were used for treating each of the four humours and it was believed that a particular purgative would only act on a specific humour and not others. Like in the case of bleeding or bloodletting method, the purgatives too were not given to people who were very young or very aged. However, in modern times, physicians no longer use cathartics to treat all ailments. In other words, contemporary physicians have discarded the ancient practice of using them regularly for treating all diseases. Nevertheless, even in the present times, physicians do sometimes recommend using laxatives, a much milder variety of cathartic, and many people use them too.
Emetics are basically medicines or substances that bring about vomiting. Documented history shows that almost all ancient civilizations and cultures across the globe had been routinely using emetics in the form of a cleansing therapy. They used emetics in addition to using enemas and cathartics. People believed that any emetic that was active, for instance, white hellebore, possessed the aptitude to withdraw the humours from the deepest nooks of the body. Emetics and cathartics were so popular that till recently, as late as the current century, people believed that they were useful for getting rid of the detrimental deposits inside the body and cleansing it, encouraging digestion, increasing appetite, cooling the system and also destroying wind formed inside the body.
In ancient times, it was common for physicians to use emetics to treat gastric problems. In addition, emetics were also regularly used for treating several other medical problems. In fact, physicians always kept emetics ready to ensure, alleviate the uneasiness to their patients and provide them with comfort as well as happiness. However, as we started to understand our physiology and digestion better, we have become aware of the fact that these methods are not only very harsh, but may also result in the patient's death in some cases. Appropriate diet and taking suitable nutriments help to improve our digestion, and also cleanse the digestive tract. We have also discovered that we are able to cleanse the digestive tract by using methods that are milder. Nevertheless, many people continue to use emetics even to this day to promote vomiting, especially in cases involving different types of poisoning.
Trephination is a surgical process that entails cutting a spherical portion of bone from the skull. There is evidence that many physicians were skilled in this process several thousand years ago. In fact, archaeologists have discovered trephined skulls that date back to roughly 10,000 B.C.! In the subsequent years, scientists have also discovered many other ancient trephined skulls or spherical bone parts removed from the skull in several parts of the world. The size of the holes cut into the skulls may differ. A number of trephined skulls discovered in North America have more than one hole.
Surgeons have used the trephination technique for over 2,000 years now with a view to provide relief from brain compression owing to fractures. However, it is also a fact that several ancient trephined skulls that were discovered from various places do now show any sign of the skulls being fractured. Many people are of the view that ancient surgeons performed trephination in the form of a cleansing or purification therapy. Besides, there is a belief that the circular or disc shaped bone removed from the skull was worn by many people as amulets to protect them from various misfortunes.
It is interesting to note that some surgeons performed trephination even in the 17th century for treating diseases like epilepsy, convulsive diseases and those related to the nervous system. They undertook trephination with the purpose of forcing the 'evil air to blow away'. Till more recently, a number of tribal societies also performed trephination with a view to treat chronic headaches.
All civilizations across the world have used baths that are varied and dissimilar with the purpose of rinsing out ailments as well as to cleanse and purify the body. In ancient times, people considered diseases to be a result of being unhygienic and, hence, it was essential to undertake the cleansing and purification of the patient as well as his/ her home. In the early days, people took baths in pools, lakes, rivers and also seas. In fact, people considered springs to be special and sacred and believed that they were bestowed with unique powers that helped to enhance healing as well as augment fertility.
All medicinal baths were not the same, as their temperature varied with their therapeutic purposes and the disease that was being treated. For several centuries now, people have been using cold baths as well as cooling compresses with the objective of treating fevers and alleviating pain. On the other hand, ancient people used warm or lukewarm baths to pacify mentally ill patients who were agitated and hysterical. This was mainly because warm or tepid water is known to have a soothing influence that has a tendency to bring about relaxation and also induce sleep.
However, hot baths seemed to be most popular in ancient times and people started using them since long back - precisely speaking, their use began in ancient Egypt. From the clinical point of view, a hot bath is considered to possess analgesic or painkilling effects. At the same time, hot baths also invigorate the nervous system. In fact, Romans as well as Greeks often visited bathhouse that had both cold and hot baths. Even during medieval times, people in Europe did not have private baths in their homes and, hence, they too visited the public bathhouses. Their purpose of visiting the bathhouses was dual - to cleanse their body and also to sustain and improve their health. In addition, these public bathhouses also offered various types of treatments, including massage, bleeding or bloodletting and cupping. They also made various herbal remedies and tonics available to those who visited these baths.
Hot baths promoted perspiration, which was believed to be remedial and also good for cleansing the body. Going by the ancient tradition, sweats can be categorized under three different heads - sweat of toil, sweat of ailments, and sweat of bathing. Even today, people continue to use wet saunas and steam baths to facilitate treatment of diseases related to the respiratory tract and also alleviate rheumatic pain. In addition, these saunas and baths are also beneficial for the tone and texture of the skin.
Documented history reveals that since the ancient times humans have been practicing message therapy in some form or the other. Some massage therapies were just rubbing oil on the body, while there were other forms that engaged more profound bodywork with a view to alleviate muscle tension and also get rid of the wastes or toxic substances accumulated in the muscles. In fact, massages also worked as mechanical cleansers, driving out waste materials, especially in people who might be struggling with constipation.
At different times, people have defined massages in different ways or used different terms to describe them - for instance, rubbing; stroking and kneading; passive exercise; mechanotherapy and therapeutic manipulation. With the expansion of the medical theory as well as practice, bodywork also maintained its pace. The current century has witnessed a sort of explosion in massage techniques, discoveries of novel methods and even practitioners, especially in the manner in which we can employ the hands to influence the human physiology. Nevertheless, it is important to note that irrespective of the technique one uses, massages are very helpful in cleansing the body as well as maintaining its ideal balance.
The first millennium B.C. witnessed physicians in China initiating the development of organized medicine. While it is difficult to ascertain that acupuncture originated in China, the first documented reference to this method of treatment goes back to 90 B.C. Nevertheless, it is likely that the technique of treating people using needles was developed much before this time.
The technique of acupuncture entails inserting small needles into the patient's skin. These needles are made from excellent quality metals and vary in length between 0.5 inch and quite a few inches. Subsequently, the needles may be twirled, heated or vibrated. They are then left in position for different amounts of time, subject to the health condition that is being treated.
The points on the skin where the practitioners insert the needles are known as acupuncture points. These points are situated on different meridians that run along the body. According to the Chinese philosophy, these meridians are known as energy pathways and they are thought to govern specific physical conditions. Physicians practicing traditional Chinese medicine are of the view that disparities in the energy flowing through these meridians are responsible for different diseases and pains suffered by people. When the skilled acupuncture practitioners insert the specialized needles at the precise points on the meridian, it helps to reinstate as well as balance the energy flow by reducing the excessive energy and reload the deficiencies, if any. In this way, acupuncture practitioners restore order and a harmonious balance in the chi (the fundamental life force in the body) that flows through the entire organs of our body.
When you completely abstain from all foods and beverages, counting water, it is called true fasting. In the prehistoric times, humans started fasting with a view to appease the divine powers, which they thought were not happy with them. With the passage of time, fasting turned out to be an element of religious rituals and purification ceremonies. Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates as well as several other initial physicians were of the view that fasting not only made the body dry, but also helped to sustain the balance of the four vital humours. However, this remedial technique was never practised on babies, children and elderly people. While many physicians recommended fasting from time to time as a cleansing therapy, majority of the early physicians were more in favour of employing the bleeding (bloodletting), emetic and cathartic methods to treat ailments, cleanse the body as well as to maintain its balance.
Even in present times several people undergo fasting periodically to cleanse their system. In addition, fasting is also regularly used in the form of a religious observance. However, the number of people who practice true fasting is very few, as they consume water, fruit juices or even broth while fasting. Irrespective of the cause, periodic fasting is good for our health and it helps to detoxify our body.
In ancient times, most cultures used plants to prepare their medications. They used all or some parts of certain plants, including the leaves, stems, barks, roots, flowers, fruits, oils, resins and juices, to prepare medications. It was believed that several plants had particular uses and were employed to sustain or restore the balance of a specific element or humour. In fact, the Chinese assert that their physicians have been using herbal medications for more than 10,000 years to sustain or restore the balance of the five elements - earth, water, fire, wood and metal. Ancient literature discovered in India shows that it listed as many as 760 plants that possess remedial qualities. Ancient Indian physicians also used these herbs to maintain the equilibrium of the elements - earth, water, wind, fire and space. Nevertheless, documented history suggests that Egyptians were the first to utilize remedies prepared from plants. And they did this in a much organized manner.
The resinous substances obtained from some plants possessed antiseptic properties and, hence, they were used for treating a number of specific health conditions. On the other hand, wines as well as different alcoholic preparations were also used extensively in the form of remedies, as they possessed anesthetic qualities. Even in those days, physicians, especially those belonging to the Hindu and Egyptian pharmacies, used remedies prepared from minerals. Physicians in nearly all cultures considered mercury to be the 'king of metals' and they used remedies prepared from it for internally as well as externally use.
People belong to several cultures, particularly those in the ancient Orient, were of the view that water not only cleansed and soothed the body, but was also effective in purifying the body as well as the soul. They used water for its therapeutic qualities and also in the form of a vehicle or medium for preparing other different remedies.
It was a common practice among many ancient cultures to classify medications in accordance to their performance or the purpose they were used, for instance, aphrodisiac, tonic, emetic, laxative and purgative. In all, there were 35 dissimilar types of classifications. Physicians prescribed medications in various different forms, such as pills, infusions, syrups, mixtures, decoctions, tinctures, powders, salves, poultices, ointments, plasters, pastes, suppositories and fumigations. It is interesting to note that in ancient times, the physicians usually prepared these different forms of medications depending on the astral positions or astrology. In fact, they considered a specific moon phase or the positions of different planets as well as stars to be an important precondition for the processes involved in preparing these medications.
No matter which medication or approach was being employed, the main objective of the therapies was aimed at cleansing, purifying or even balancing the elements or humours present in the body. While nearly all ancient remedies are no more in use these days, a number of therapeutic herbs are still being prescribed to treat the similar conditions. Contemporary scientific researches undertaken to study these herbs still corroborate the usefulness of several herbs used in folk medicine. Precisely speaking, several prescription medications of our times have actually been drawn from the same herbs.