Ancient civilizations and their use
of medicinal plants

If we go back a few thousand years, we discover that ancient civilizations made use of some of the same remedies that we follow today, although in a more primitive and less processed form. Here are some examples.

Willow bark infusions

Headaches were cured with willow bark infusions which contain aspirin: the same that is found in modern-day aspirin.

Bread mold

The mold that attacks bread and other flours is a fungus with bactericidal properties, used previously by many cultures. The microorganisms found in this mold formed the basis of modern day penicillin.

Ice and cold

Ice shrinks blood vessels which deprives the blood supply to damaged areas and acts as an aesthetic and anti-inflammatory. A quick and effective solution still used today.

Poppy seeds

The sedative action produced by the capsules found in poppy seeds has helped mankind to sleep for thousands of years.

Granada and apricot seed

Historically used as a contraceptives thanks to the discovery of oestrone in their seeds, an estrogenic hormone. Use in coordination with the female menstrual cycle.

Cod liver oil

Fever absorbs vitamin A reserves in our bodies. Cod liver oil has been used as a remedy for generations as it contains a high concentration of vitamins.

Advances in medical procedures

Advances in synthesizing these drugs (pills instead of willow bark infusions) have provided convenience and increased effectiveness, but the true benefits with regard to visible improvements have been seen in the field of diagnosis and surgery. We now have many new techniques, tools and equipped spaces designed for this means.

Anaesthesia was not being used at the beginning of the 19th Century, alcohol, opium or chloroform was used instead, and surgical procedures were very basic and fast (amputations were performed in less than a minute). Hygienic levels were questionable: surgeons didn’t always wash their hands before and after operations. Robes were usually dirty and wooden boxes were kept under the operating table to collect the blood of patients. Surgical procedures for rich patients were often carried out at their homes, often on the kitchen table.

The risk of death at the hands of a surgeon increased greatly due to a lack of knowledge of the causes of infection. The mortality index increased with the trauma of the operation itself, and as surgery was a last resort, the patient was usually powerless.

(Thankfully) Outdated Techniques

Lobotomy

The most extreme lobotomies involved reaching and cutting the frontal lobe of the brain, accessed through the eye sockets. A drill was sometimes used to slightly pierce the skull.

Phlebotomy

This procedure was used for nearly 2,500 years. The basic idea was that all diseases were caused by an imbalance in body fluids. Regaining balance was simple, the person suffering from a disease (or even something as simple as acid reflux) was cut and left to bleed for a while. Leeches could also be used, if preferred.

Trepanation

Consisted essentially of drilling a hole in the brain, without anaesthetic. This was believed to give evil spirits an escape route, and was often used as a cure for mental illness.

Radio and radioactivity

Radioactivity, notably radio, was widely used as a medical treatment for various conditions in the 20th Century including diarrhoea, madness and aging. Devices were even invented which enabled the use of radioactive water for domestic use.

Goat testicles

In an attempt to cure impotence, goat testicles were inserted into the scrotum of patients. Initially deemed an isolated eccentricity, this ended up becoming a successful technique, performed on over 16,000 patients.

Latest advances in modern medicine

Medical applications such as lasers, robotics and virtual reality may seem like something straight from a science fiction movie, but they are fast becoming a reality in the 21st Century. Many interventions today are revolutionizing the world of medicine, including:

Operations deemed complex and unthinkable in the past, such as interventions involving tonsils or corneas, are now treated by laserin a matter of minutes, without a need for anaesthesia or hospital admittance.

Creating virtual environments and reliving them consistently has proved to be a very creative solution for the treatment of phobias, especially for those patients suffering from vertigo and agoraphobia. A virtual reality simulator experience, exposing the patient to their fears and increased levels of anxiety, enables patients to confront their fears in a progressive manner, under the supervision of professionals.

The first samples of human tissue have already been printed in three dimensions thanks to advances in biotechnology, and the first attempts to print a fully functional organ are already underway. In bio-printing, scientists obtain a biopsy of human cells or stem cells, which are then multiplied in a petri dish. The resulting mixture, a biological ink, is introduced into a 3D printer, programmed to arrange different types of cells into a precise three dimensional shape, and combined with existing tissues.

We have already seen the first cases of patients with robotic limbs controlled by microelectrodes implanted in the brains. A brain-computer interface converts thoughts into movements or actions, and thanks to “osseointegration”, prosthetic limbs can now be controlled from the brain.

Biotechnology advances have enabled rapid recovery of injuries, through the removal of small samples of blood from the affected patient. Plasma is then separated from red and white blood cells, and these plasma fractions provide concentrated proteins from the blood. This concentration can stimulate the regeneration of tissues.