For all its perceived faults, this modern age represents a refuge of sorts – at least when it comes to scientific and medical advancements. While nostalgia is an easy and understandable trap to fall into, a quick look at any book detailing treatments from past times is an easy cure.
While some au natural remedies have been handed down for generations and continue to be popular today, there are tons of customs that have been roundly discredited – thankfully.
Let’s take a brief tour into mankind’s macabre thought processes. But before doing so, make sure to read on an empty stomach, because this list will leave you feeling a bit queasy!
Here are some of history’s oddest and most disgusting medical treatments
1. Mashed Mouse
The idea that mashed mouse carcass could prove to be a remedy for anything other than disgusting someone who happens to annoy you a great deal is laughable at best. But in fact, the Ancient Egyptians are alleged to have thought that the strange concoction would ease tooth pain.
In some cases, a mashed mouse would be blended with other ingredients to form a poultice thought to ease pain when applied to a sore spot.
This strange idea appears across borders in different cultures throughout time, including Elizabethan England. For one, they thought that the best way to get rid of a wart was to cut a mouse in half and apply it to the offending spot.
Mice were also used to treat disparate ailments such as the whooping cough, measles, smallpox, and somehow, bed-wetting.
Although, this could be due in part to the fact that the Elizabethans also ate mice in pies or fried appetizers – perhaps they needed a “healthy” reason to justify their odd eating habits!
Strangely enough, rats were viewed as entirely evil creations…but mice were roundly embraced.
This so-called medical procedure is perhaps one of the cruelest things to have ever been practiced in human history. Hemiglossectomy was a treatment devised by the medical establishment during the 18th and 19th centuries to help cure stuttering.
The procedure involved cutting off half the stutterer’s tongue, which – surprise, surprise – did not work. Furthermore, the pain was excruciating without the modern benefit of anesthesia. And sadly, many patients often bled to death.
A more advanced version of the treatment is still in use today but as a treatment for oral cancer. And of course, anaesthesia is used!
It is now common knowledge that arsenic is a poisonous substance. But it was used – albeit, in smaller quantities – for many, many years in the 18th Century in a wide-range of treatments, and as recently as the 1950s.
Arsenic was especially well-regarded in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is known as Pi Shuang. It was a key ingredient in a number of patent medicines before being widely discredited, such as Fowler’s Solution, which was deemed a popular cure for malaria and syphilis. Another medicine featuring arsenic was Donovan’s solution, which was used to treat both arthritis and diabetes.
The substance was also used in a variety of feminine cosmetic rituals, and was often brushed on the face or added to rouge, granting the phrase “arsenic and lace” a whole new level of meaning.
4. Crocodile Feces
Contraception has, of course, come a long way. Especially when you think about how people in ancient times tried to avoid pregnancies, with so few options available. Amongst the ancient Egyptians, dried crocodile muck was the contraceptive most often used before intercourse, with the thinking that it provided an impenetrable barrier.
Other forms of “birth control” were also popular throughout history, and some were perhaps less stomach-churning. These include tree sap, lemon halves, cotton, wool, sea sponges, and elephant dung. Although, even the less disgusting options all sound rather painful!
5. Sheep Liver
An interesting method of helping to treat those who fell ill in antiquity was by inspecting the liver of sacrificed animals – sheep, to be exact.
When someone in a family, for example, became sick, the ancient Babylonians or Greeks did not necessarily inspect the body of the individual, but rather would go dig up the remains of recently sacrificed sheep, searching for clues.
The liver was thought to be the single organ which helped to predict the future; it was considered to be the site of the soul, and the vital organ for all forms of mental and emotional activity.
It was not until much later in civilization that the heart began to embody all these functions and ideas. Still, the art of divination or trying to find the reasons behind someone’s ailment using sheep liver seems to have died out rather early in human history.
6. “Powder of Sympathy”
Quack doctors have been around since before the Hippocratic Oath came into being – mad men who presumed to know how to cure any and every ailment with a wonder drug are a common malaise throughout history.
One of these is Sir Kenelm Digby, whose wacky “Powder of Sympathy” was all the rage in 17th Century medicine, before being discredited.
The powder was intended as a treatment for a very specific sort of injury: rapier wounds. The questionable substance was made of earthworms, pigs’ brains, iron oxide (rust), and bits of mummified powder, all ground into a neat powder.
However, that’s not the crazy part. Hilariously, the powder was not meant to be applied into the wound itself, but rather, to be rubbed onto the offending weapon.
Digby thought that the strange mixture would somehow encourage the wound to heal via a process called “sympathetic magic.” As crazy as this sounds, people definitely believed it would work, the belief supported by the clergy who believed that it contained magic wrought by the devil.
7. Snake Oil
Speaking of quack medicine, snake oil wasn’t always a euphemism for disturbingly weird treatments. For centuries, snake oil from the Chinese water snake was actually used in traditional Chinese medicine to relieve joint pain.
In reality, it is still used today, since it contains a substance that helps to heal inflammation.
That being said, ignore those ads utilizing snake venom as a beauty treatment – those findings are still not verified. And the idea of using poison on your face is probably never going to be a good one.
8. Crystal Meth
Adolf Hitler possessed many, many frightful qualities. However, one of his weirder tendencies was a deep belief in odd remedies and medical treatments.
According to several well-documented accounts, Hitler’s poison of choice was crystal meth. He would request his medical council to inject his buttocks with the drug to keep him energetic and vibrant. And apparently, he wasn’t the only one. The drug was perceived as a harmless way to keep one’s spirits up amongst the upper classes.
During the early 1900s, John Brinkley became one of the richest doctors in America, despite the fact that he possessed no medical qualifications.
His secret? Apparently, he claimed that he could cure impotence, infertility, and other sexual problems by surgically implanting goat testicles into a man’s scrotum.
Needless to say, the surgery not only bore no scientific merit, it was also extremely dangerous, often leading to death.
Surprisingly, it took decades for Brinkley to be barred from practicing medicine. But not before amassing a fortune, building hospitals, and even attempting to run for governor of Kansas – twice.
10. Metal Catheters
Antibiotics are a very modern – and in some ways – magical invention. Before their discovery, anyone who had an infection, however mild, would undoubtedly suffer terribly, and soon enough die a slow and painful death. Common urinary tract infections were treated using metal catheters, which look like medieval torture devices.
The metal tool was shaped as a straight pipe, which did not reflect the natural curve of the urethra. Besides being unbearably painful, the metal would sometimes exacerbate the infection – surely not a good way to go, by any stretch of the imagination!
Diet crazes might seem like the defining characteristic of the post-modern age. But in reality, weight loss cures and fads have been around for ages.
Perhaps the weirdest and most ghastly measure is the use of tapeworms and tapeworm eggs as a possible cure for obesity. The treatment was advertised in the early 1900s, wherein a tapeworm would be inserted into someone’s colon to help them lose weight.
How exactly this method was supposed to work is not entirely clear, but it saw a surge in popularity in the 1950s after opera legend Maria Callas was rumored to have undergone the procedure.
While some of these treatments are perhaps a bit too outlandish, they did represent the “cutting edge” of medicine during their respective eras. However, anyone who follows the health news nowadays knows that attempting to cure the body of what ails it is rarely a pretty process. In fact, there are plenty of things we do now that might seem utterly repulsive to future generations – so no need to feel too smug when thinking of our ancestors!