When Feces is the Best Medicine: An Anglo-Saxon Medicine follow-up

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This topic contains 7 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  anonymous 2 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #16262

    anonymous
    Participant

    So, ever since Jamie's medicine episodes, I never forgot the image of an Anglo-Saxon doctor smearing horse dung over gaping wounds. That image kind of sticks with a person. Until now, my thoughts were basically a mix of revulsion and disbelief that they'd do something so flagrantly wrong, medically. However, there may have been more to this kind of practice than meets the eye. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:When Feces is the Best Medicine Now granted, an enema is different from the practice Jamie described, and it would probably hurt more than it helped in any given situation... but maybe this kind of thing actually staved off infection sometimes?

  • #20133

    Jamie
    Keymaster

    Fascinating, isn't it?  Though, I don't know if I could ever undergo something like that myself.

  • #20134

    anonymous
    Participant

    Haha, that makes you wonder what kind of choice poor Unfirth would have had in his treatment. Though probably the most common choice was no treatment at all!

  • #20135

    anonymous
    Participant

    I've just finished listening to this episode (late starter that I am) – absolutely fascinating.In the spirit of the podcast (ie pointing out the method in the madness) I'd just like to mention that cellulose products are even now used for stopping bleeding (ref herehttps://www.google.co.uk/#q=cellulose%20haemostasis) - the logic is that cellulose (found in plant material) is a long molecule which functions rather like fibrin, the protein used in the normal clotting process to trap blood.Horse faeces is going to have a lot of cellulose in it, and drying it will kill a lot of the bacteria in it (heating it over a flame might even kill the spores that cause tetanus, which would be my biggest concern, although I can't remember if the recipe included cooking).  Once powdered, I suspect it would be remarkably effective.Yes, some of the patients/victims might then die of tetanus.  But if they're otherwise going to die of blood loss, saving any of them is a bonus.

  • #20136

    anonymous
    Participant

    I was pleased that Jamie mentioned that some of these treatments might have had a placebo effect.  That is undoubtedly the case, but the degree of this effect is often underrestimated.  Take a look at this http://capsugel.com/media/library/simple-analgesics-for-arthritis.pdf – pages 3 and 4 (I imagine it's all quite interesting, but its fairly dense reading).  My point is that, with the example of a common condition like arthritis, the difference between the effect of drugs we use and placebo is LESS than the effect of placebo itself.  In other words, more than half the benefit of aspirin (for pain, not cardiovascular disease) is from the placebo effect.Furthermore, the placebo effect is quite dependent on how much we've been primed to believe in the power of the treatment (google Ben Goldacre and Placebo for Dr Goldacre's excellent talks on the topic) - so injections of saline work better than sugar pills, and red sugar pills work better than green ones.  For a superstitious culture the placebo effect must have been pretty powerful.  My field is veterinary medicine which, due to the fragmented nature of its practitioners and the relative dearth of funding, is still a fair bit behind human medicine regarding an evidence base.  However at a lecture a few years ago our dilemma was put across as "only forty percent [nb: might have been 60%] of human medicine has an evidence base, and vet. med. is worse".  This isn't to say that the non evidence based stuff is useless, just that it hasn't been conclusively proven to be a good idea (as an example, steroids have been used after severe head trauma until very recently, on the basis that they reduced swelling.  It has since been found that compared to placebo they actually increase mortality over the next two weeks, because they don't work as well for trauma-related swelling as they do for tumour-related swelling, and the side effects can be significant).  So, as Jamie attested in the podcast, we should be careful not to assume that the medical fallacies which so derailed historical medicine have been even generally resolved.Must go - have another hundred or so podcasts to catch up on!

  • #20137

    anonymous
    Participant

    Hey, fascinating Jon! I love it when someone knowledgeable comes into the room with nice explanations for why things work. I'm actually pretty surprised to hear that veterinary medicine is so far behind human medicine. I'm an enormous animal lover, but the cynic in me would have thought that practice of risky procedures could be more common than they are with humans and so there would be more opportunity for “evidence based” procedures! Then again, animals offer absolutely no feedback whatsoever, and can often act fine when they're hurting… At any rate, here's another article:http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-32117815"Scientists recreated a 9th Century Anglo-Saxon remedy using onion, garlic and part of a cow's stomach. They were "astonished" to find it almost completely wiped out staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA."Score two for the old leechbook, eh fellas?

  • #20138

    anonymous
    Participant

    Yep, onion kills bacteria and I imagine that garlic does too.  For that matter so will English wine (=vinegar :-) )MRSA and VRSA are resistant to antibiotics but they can still be killed by antiseptics (such as the stuff in that recipe, honey, maggots but also more modern stuff like chloramphenicol.  The biggest issue is finding substances that leaves the human tissue relatively undamaged.The problem with veterinary medicine is that to get a decent evidence base you need either a really big effect of a drug or really large numbers of patients.  You can do that by pooling the results of multiple clinics but ideally you also want every patient to be diagnosed and treated exactly the same way apart from the thing you're testing so that you know any differences were due to the treatment rather than differences in the quality of the hospital, the doctor/vet, the nursing etc or the health of the patient.  A lot of human hospitals have fairly stringent protocols for diagnosis and treatment of certain conditions, and this will (at least in the UK) not be altered as much by the ability of the patient to afford tests/meds.    As far as drug companies go, developing a new drug for heart disease in humans is likely to be far more lucrative than designing one for animals.  Fortunately in a lot of cases vets can piggy back on advances in human fields; there are more similarities than differences between dogs/cats and humans.  And, while I'm a big fan of evidence based medicine, you don't need to treat 2000 wounds (with 2000 controls) with onion/garlic if nearly every wound you treat gets better and nearly every wound you don't treat goes gangrenous (that's actually still evidence based, just without the need for complicated statistics)

  • #20139

    anonymous
    Participant

    I found this recently – it's probably a bit of a stretch to imagine coffee would be available to dark ages Britain (Roman Britain, possibly?) but I include it as another case where the old stuff works considerably better than the stuff we use today.  Worth a look if only as a lifehack.http://www.nature.com/articles/pcrj201372

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