Evolution of Western Medicine

If we go back into ancient history, we can recognize efforts to understand and preserve the well-being of people within various groups. Spirituality and health appear to have been strongly enmeshed. For those of us who were taught that the “Birthplace (or cradle) of Civilization” was in Mesopotamia, it’s only natural that we would also consider Hippocrates,a Greek physician (460-375 BC) to be the “Father of Medicine.”

60 volumes were written during his lifetime regarding his philosophy. He has been known to say,” Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” He’s credited with a theory involving “4 humors” or fluids, which are: yellow and black bile, blood and phlegm and 2 qualities: hot or cold and moist or dry, as they relate to certain organs and age groups. The interactions among those humors, qualities, and age groups, as well as the influence of the seasons and plants, determined a person’s physical and mental health, along with their personality.

However, recorded Ayurveda from India dates back before Hippocrates or to 5,000 years ago and Chinese medicine dates back to 2,200 years ago. Both also focus upon balancing, (using different terms than Hippocrates), of the body, mind and spirit to achieve optimal wellbeing. All 3 utilize endemic herbs, forms of exercise and meditation set upon a social background.

A particular person who sought and perfected elixirs of death and their antidotes was Mithridates VI (120-63BC), the “Poison King” of Pontus (land on the southeastern shore of the Black Sea) and literally ancient Rome’s deadliest enemy. His herbal mixtures which he developed with Crataeus, a root doctor, made Mithridates a physically formidable warrier, resistant to poisons, and feared from poisoning family members, servants and perceived enemies.While his entire life was filled with intrigue, Crataeus kept meticulous records which remain available to modern herbalists.What can be learned from those records are the use of specific alkaloids which can act as antidotes or ”mithridates.”

Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541) called himself Paracelsus.He considered himself an alchemist, however his ideas using poisons such as mercury, arsenic, lead and antimony as “cures”, actually introduced chemistry into 16th century medicine. He is given credit for the invention of laudanum, a tincture of opium, which was a major part of the pharmacopeia well into the twentieth century by that name and continues in opioid derivatives.

Homeopathy began with Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German physician. He coined homeopathy from the Greek words “homios” meaning similar and “pathos” meaning suffering. It refers to the law of similarities as also described by Hippocrates, Paracelsus, Mayans, Chinese, Greeks, American and Asian indigenous groups and William Cullen, a leading late-18th century physician.

Dr, Hahnemann recommended small doses of medicines using only one at a time. Apothecaries disliked him not only for their inability to charge much for the small doses, but also that those medicines required careful and precise preparation. He chose to make them on his own, which was illegal at the time and was arrested in Leipzig in 1820, found guilty, and forced to move.Nevertheless, homeopathy grew because it offered a treatment for sick people at a time when orthodox medicine was considered ineffective and even dangerous, as written by Dana Ullman, MPH: (https://homeopathic.com/a-condensed-history-of-homeopathy)

There is a general agreement among medical historians today that orthodox medicine of the 1700’s and 1800’s in particular caused more harm than good. Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), “Father of American Medicine”, believed bloodletting, along with use of leeches, was useful in all general and chronic diseases. Orthodox physicians of that era also used medicines made from mercury, lead, arsenic and strong herbs to purge the body of foreign disease-causing matter.

Out of a time when there was disillusionment with medical care and a developing prejudice against homeopathy, the American Medical Association was formed in 1846. Today we consider medicine of the 18th and 19th centuries unscientific and even barbaric. Yet orthodox physicians of that time in history called homeopathy: “quackery, unscientific, cultish, and devilish”, even though homeopathic physicians trained in the same medical schools as “regular” physicians,many from the same most prestigious schools of the day. Dana Ullman further purports a continued schism occurs out of homeopathy’s “philosophical, clinical and economic threat to orthodox medicine.”

Maybe the present would be different if major grants had gone to homeopathic institutions, as John D. Rockefeller intended in 1913,with his instructions to his financial advisor, Frederick T. Gates (not related to Bill Gates), Funds were instead diverted to orthodox medical institutions through the Rockefeller Foundation. The Foundation, in partnership with Andrew Carnegie and educator Abraham Flexner set out to centralize U.S. medical schooling, orienting it to the “germ theory”, which states that germs are solely responsible for disease, which necessitates the use of pharmaceuticals to target those infectious agents (“a pill for an ill”, Flexner).

Drug companies through large endowments to current prestigious medical institutions for research have since been mouthpieces for allopathy in textbooks and journals. JAMA has acknowledged “the medical press is profoundly under the influence of the proprietary interests (drug companies).” The PDR provides information to physicians as provided by the pharmaceutical companies. 45% of FDA’s funding is from pharmaceutical application fees. One of the largest Congressional lobbying groups is from pharmaceutical companies.

Integrative medicine has sprung up utilizing multiple time-honored medical practices, I’m not saying allopathic medicine doesn’t have a place among them, especially in extreme circumstances. However, it is my opinion that its focus has lost sight of the original intent of the ancient wisdom, to address the unique balance in the mind, body and spirit for an individual’s wellbeing.

Upcoming blogs will delve into some medicines from the earth in Western Herbalism.

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