The Importance of Having a Brain: Tales from the History of Medicine

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This requirement made it challenging to acquire. The 16th century German-Swiss physician Paracelsus believed blood was good for drinking, and one of his followers even suggested taking blood from a living body. Rub fat on an ache, and it might ease your pain. Push powdered moss up your nose, and your nosebleed will stop. In other words, these medicines may have been incidentally helpful—even though they worked by magical thinking, one more clumsy search for answers to the question of how to treat ailments at a time when even the circulation of blood was not yet understood.

However, consuming human remains fit with the leading medical theories of the day. Another reason human remains were considered potent was because they were thought to contain the spirit of the body from which they were taken.

The Evolution of Alternative Medicine - The Atlantic

In this context, blood was especially powerful. The freshest blood was considered the most robust. Sometimes the blood of young men was preferred, sometimes, that of virginal young women. By ingesting corpse materials, one gains the strength of the person consumed. In a dead thing insensate life remains which, when it is reunited with the stomachs of the living, regains sensitive and intellectual life.

Romans drank the blood of slain gladiators to absorb the vitality of strong young men. Fifteenth-century philosopher Marsilio Ficino suggested drinking blood from the arm of a young person for similar reasons. Many healers in other cultures, including in ancient Mesopotamia and India, believed in the usefulness of human body parts, Noble writes. The other group was Native Americans; negative stereotypes about them were justified by the suggestion that these groups practiced cannibalism.

Conklin, a cultural and medical anthropologist at Vanderbilt University who has studied and written about cannibalism in the Americas. People of the time knew that corpse medicine was made from human remains, but through some mental transubstantiation of their own, those consumers refused to see the cannibalistic implications of their own practices. Conklin finds a distinct difference between European corpse medicine and the New World cannibalism she has studied.

Human beings were reduced to simple biological matter equivalent to any other kind of commodity medicine. The hypocrisy was not entirely missed. As science strode forward, however, cannibal remedies died out. The practice dwindled in the 18th century, around the time Europeans began regularly using forks for eating and soap for bathing. But Sugg found some late examples of corpse medicine: In , an Englishman was advised to mix the skull of a young woman with treacle molasses and feed it to his daughter to cure her epilepsy.

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Mummy was sold as medicine in a German medical catalog at the beginning of the 20th century. And in , a last known attempt was made in Germany to swallow blood at the scaffold. This is not to say that we have moved on from using one human body to heal another. Blood transfusions, organ transplants and skin grafts are all examples of a modern form of medicine from the body. At their best, these practices are just as rich in poetic possibility as the mummies found in Donne and Shakespeare, as blood and body parts are given freely from one human to another.

But Noble points to their darker incarnation, the global black market trade in body parts for transplants. Her book cites news reports on the theft of organs of prisoners executed in China, and, closer to home, of a body-snatching ring in New York City that stole and sold body parts from the dead to medical companies. Maria Dolan is a writer based in Seattle. Continue or Give a Gift.

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Ingenuity Ingenuity Awards. The Innovative Spirit. Why did a German psychiatrist intentionally inject blood from malaria patients into the arms of his psychiatry patients, and what was his reward for this brutal therapy? What disease killed more people in the 29th Century alone than all of century's battles, armed conflicts and wars combined? Why do we call "blood banks" blood banks? This book is the story of man and of one of his creeds: medical history in small doses.

100 Must-Read Books About The History of Medicine

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