How to Permanently Heal Adrenal Fatigue Using Powerful Ancient Herbs

What are the adrenals?

To understand the importance of the adrenals in your body’s response to stress, let’s start by looking at what your adrenals glands do. Your adrenal glands are essential to life as they help you cope with all types of stress. As part of the endocrine system, their role is to govern the fight or flight response (alarm reaction) and get you ready for action. They do this by producing several important hormones including cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. Making sure that your adrenals produce the right amount of hormones is crucial – too much or too little of any particular hormone can cause havoc in your body and affect your ability to deal with the demands of living.

What is Adrenal Fatigue or Insufficiency?

Adrenal Fatigue is a medical condition where the adrenal glands are unable to produce adequate amounts of the hormones necessary for proper body function. This lack of hormones results in changes in the body’s carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system and even sex drive. The result of this imbalance means that the individual experiences normal everyday stresses as overwhelming, resulting in complete and utter exhaustion that never seems to be relieved no matter how much sleep or rest they get. Although you can’t see adrenal fatigue, as there are no visible symptoms, it is a crippling and devastating condition for its sufferers. The fact that it is invisible makes it even harder for sufferers as others may question the individual’s symptoms and the validity of the condition itself. Individuals suffering from adrenal fatigue may look and seem healthy but they are feeling like their energy and life is slipping away.

Causes of Adrenal Fatigue

The underlying cause of adrenal fatigue is ongoing, continuous unresolved stress. The stress can be emotional, mental, physical or external such as; poor diet, heavy metal toxicity, extreme shock and emotional trauma, excessive exercise, physical trauma, working too hard without enough rest, over-indulgence in stimulants like coffee, tea, tobacco, and narcotics, excessive use of cortisone therapy, lack of sleep or infections. Unfortunately, the body reacts the same way to both real and imagined threats. For instance, constant worrying about a relationship ending can cause the same over-taxing of the adrenals and suppression of the immune system as actually having the relationship end. So your thinking has a major impact on your adrenal health and therefore your overall well-being. When the brain interprets an event as threatening (stressful) the adrenals begin to work. They signal the nervous system to prepare to fight or flee. Even though the stressful event may be over, the body continues to fight. When this state of emergency is maintained for long periods of time, the body’s reserves become depleted and the immune system and adrenals are weakened.

During the early stages of adrenal fatigue your body produces an excess amount of cortisol to deal with the constant fight or flight response initiated by the stress. High cortisol levels can result in obesity, increased cholesterol and blood pressure,altered brain chemistry causing depression and anxiety, insulin resistance and osteoporosis. If you fail to address the stress, eventually your adrenals become so exhausted that they are no longer able to produce an adequate amount of cortisol or other necessary hormones to maintain normal physiological function. Adrenal Fatigue can become a chronic ongoing condition, so to avoid it in the first place it’s so important to listen to your body. If you are tired it is pointless trying to rebel against what you body is telling you. You may be able to convince yourself that nothing is wrong and that’s its just mind over matter or that all you need is some more caffeine or sugar, but in the end your body will be heard even if it has to fall apart and shut down for you to hear what it is saying to you – and that is that you need to stop and rest.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

  • Always feeling cold
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic low-grade infections
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Night sweats
  • Needing to go to the bathroom at night
  • Depression
  • Environmental sensitivities
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Increased allergies
  • Insomnia
  • Light-headedness
  • Lower back pain in kidney area and sacrum
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscular weakness
  • Poor memory
  • Scanty perspiration
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, touch, movement
  • Total feeling of exhaustion
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Feeling overwhelmed by little things
  • Nausea

Seeking help with Adrenal Fatigue

Finding help for your Adrenal Fatigue is unfortunately not easy. Many doctors only recognise extreme adrenal conditions such as Addison’s and Cushings. If you feel that you have had several of the symptoms listed above for a period of time, then it’s important to find a knowledgeable GP to work with you. The best way to gauge your adrenal hormone profile, particular your cortisol levels, is to have a saliva test. The difference between blood test results and a saliva test result is that a cortisol blood test will measure the total hormone levels – both bound (inactive) and unbound (active) while the saliva test measures only the unbound active hormones, giving you a true reflection of what is happening in your body. To find a doctor who uses saliva testing (and who would likely be familiar with adrenal fatigue), try calling compounding pharmaciesin your area. They may be able to tell you which doctors order saliva tests.
Adrenal Fatigue According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

The fundamental principle of health and healing in TCM is the concept of balance. Your body contains both Yin and Yang Chi and in health, the relaxed Yin state balances the adrenal Yang state. The problem arises when you have an excess of either Yin or Yang influences in your life. In TCM the adrenal glands are part of the water element and relate to kidney energy. The kidneys are seen as the single most important organ affecting the length and quality of your life. They control your internal Chi, your Yin/Yang balance and house your Jing which is your life force, your aliveness, your creative power and your essence. Abundant kidney Chi correlates to a strong physical constitution as well as a strong innate sense of purpose and will. Since the adrenals relate to kidney Chi, Adrenal Fatigue is considered to be a Kidney Yang Deficiency. However, if the condition continues without treatment, it can also result in a Kidney Yin Deficiency. Kidney Yang relates to the reactive, sympathetic nervous system and the secretion of epinephrine and norepinephrine.

In contrast, Kidney Yin is the parasympathetic nervous system relating to the secretion of cortisol. Just as the body requires some degree of Yang adrenaline hormone to create motivation to react both to normal as well as life threatening stimulus, it also has a continual need for the Yin hormone, cortisol to buffer the effects of stress. In the early stages of stress, the body increases its production of cortisol, while in the later stages its secretion of cortisol is severely diminished. This lack of cortisol is diagnosed as “Kidney Yin Deficiency.” The clinical manifestations of Kidney Yang Deficiency are: soreness of the back, cold knees, sensation of cold in the back, aversion to cold, weak legs, bright-white complexion, weak knees, impotence,premature ejaculation, lassitude, abundant-clear urination, scanty-clear urination, apathy, oedema of the legs, infertility in women, poor appetite and loose stools. The tongue is pale, swollen and wet and the pulse is deep and weak. In TCM theory, when there is kidney Yang deficiency, the body fails to transform the essence leading to a decline in endocrine and physiological functions.

The way to treat Kidney Yang deficiency is to warm the kidney. This means reducing your intake of cold (eg ice cream and other frozen foods, iced drinks), raw foods and antibiotics, as these foods inhibit your body’s warming function, eventually depleting Yang. In addition, the use of sugar can overstimulate the sympathetic reflex and deplete kidney Yang. Deficient kidney Yin is manifested with symptoms of aching, soreness of the lumbar region of the back, weakness of the legs and knees, tinnitus, dizziness, vertigo, constipation, night sweats,insomnia, dry throat, feverish sensation in the soles and palms, nocturnal emission, and in women, scanty menstrual flow and amenorrhoea, flushed complexion, heat, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, dryness and chronic signs of inflammation and wasting. A deficiency of Yin suggests that the maintaining and repairing function of the body is depleted or lacking.

Coffee, a History

During the years 1573 to 1578, a German physician named Leonhardt Rauwolf traveled throughout Turkey, Syria and Persia. Along the way he noted the use of various plants, and collected numerous specimens. Rauwolf wrote an account of his travels in which he was the first Westerner to describe coffee, which made him feel “curiously animated.” Rauwolf’s comments on coffee stirred interest in the beverage among Europeans, who looked to the Orient for exotic stuffs including silks and spices.  Almost certainly first consumed in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), coffee was also used in Persia in 875, according to nineteenth century plant researcher Ernst Von Bibra.

Prior to the year 1000, members of the Ethiopian Galla tribe ground up coffee beans and mixed them with animal fat. They consumed this mixture as an energy food. Sometime around 1100, Arab traders brought coffee back to their homeland and cultivated the plant for the first time, in Yemen, along the coast of the Red Sea. The Arabians found a more pleasant and palatable way to prepare coffee, by boiling the beans. This resulted in a drink they call “K’hawah ” (stimulating, energizing). By the late thirteenth century, Arabians roasted and ground coffee before brewing it, and coffee was consumed in the form that we know it today.

By the time the fifteenth century neared to a close, Muslims had introduced coffee to Persia, Egypt, Turkey and North Africa. Coffee became a major trade item, carried on the backs of thousands, and highly prized. The world’s first coffee shop, Kiva Han, opened in Constantinople in 1475. A coffee shop may seem totally ordinary today, but at the time, it was a stunning new idea. Turkish men and women alike took to the new drink with fervor and alacrity.

In 1554 coffee houses opened on the Golden Horn, and became known as schools of the cultured. Coffee was called the “milk of chess-players and of thinkers.” By 1630, over one thousand coffeehouses operated in Cairo alone. Coffee facilitated conversation, and the drinking of coffee in public places stimulated more conversation among men than any other event in history.

As coffee grew in popularity, intrigue surrounded its cultivation. The Arabs, protective of their precious Coffea arabica, refused to allow fertile seeds, coffee trees, or cuttings to leave their country. Transportation of the plant out of the Moslem nations was forbidden by law. But sometime in the 1600s (some say 1650) a Moslem pilgrim from India named Baba Budan snuck seven fertile coffee seeds out of Arabia. He planted his seeds in the hills in Mysore, India where they flourished.

In 1650, a Lebanese Jew named Jacobs opened the first coffee house in England, at Oxford. Two years later, a Greek from Ragusa named Pascal Rosea opened the first coffeehouse in London, in Cornhill. In 1652 a merchant named Edwards, who had brought coffee from the Levant and a Greek slave girl from Smyrna, opened a coffeehouse in London as well. From that point on, coffeehouses proliferated in the great city.

Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse opened in 1688. This operation eventually became Lloyd’s of London, the world’s best known insurance company.  By 1700, over 2,000 coffeehouses operated within the city. Coffeehouses were known as “penny universities,” for a penny was charged for a cup of coffee and a quickening of the wit.

The Dutch, mindful that coffee would be a huge and lucrative crop, began experimenting with its cultivation, with coffee plants from Mocca brought to Holland. In 1658 the Dutch began the cultivation of coffee in Ceylon. The industrious Dutch planted coffee successfully there and in Bali, Timor and Celebes, establishing Indonesia as a major producer of coffee, which it remains to this day.

Coffee inevitably spread to France, where the first coffeehouse in Paris was opened in 1689 by an Italian named Francois Procope. His Café de Procope was a major success, and became a popular meeting place. By 1700 over 250 coffee houses operated in the city. French innovation changed coffee drinking forever when they first made a different kind of infusion of the beverage. Up until that point coffee was roasted, ground and boiled. By the new French infusion method, ground coffee was placed in a cloth filter, over which boiling water was poured. This resulted in a cleaner, more refined and pleasant drink. The French also boiled milk and added it to coffee, making café au lait a popular breakfast beverage.

In Germany, coffee took off in the 1670s with the opening of the first coffeehouse in Berlin. Within 50 years coffeehouses operated in every major German city. Coffee became tremendously popular in Germany, though some stubborn physicians claimed that the drink caused sterility.

In 1683, The Turkish Army surrounded Vienna. Franz Georg Kolschitzky, a Viennese who had lived in Turkey, slipped through the enemy lines to lead Polish relief forces to the city. Following this act of bravery, the Turks were defeated in battle, and fled Vienna. Among the many goods they left behind, the Turks abandoned five hundred sacks of “dry black fodder” that Kolschitzky recognized as coffee. Kolschitzky claimed the coffee as his reward and opened Vienna’s first coffeehouse, the Blue Bottle. In the habit of the Turks, Kolschitzky sweetened the coffee. He additionally filtered out the grounds and added milk. The resulting drink was sweet, fragrant, delicious and stimulating. It caught on like wildfire.

With the opening of the first coffeehouse in Boston in 1689, coffee began its steady campaign to secure the ardent loyalty of North American colonists. Tea was at that time the preferred caffeinated beverage in the new colonies, but that all changed in one eruptive burst with the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773. Angry colonists resisting a tea tax imposed by Britain’s King George threw bales of British East India Company tea into Boston Harbor. Shunning tea became a patriotic duty. Coffeehouses fluorished. The coffee trade boomed. Roasting operations sprang up to meet demand. From a single Boston coffeehouse, the United States would become the greatest coffee market in the world. By the early 1940s, the coffee-powered United States imported 70 percent of the world’s coffee crop.

Coffee cultivation intrique continued in 1714, when Louis XIV of France was made a gift of a coffee bush by the mayor of Amsterdam. The tree was lovingly cared for in the royal greenhouses, and was jealously protected by its tenders. Enter Gabriel Mathieu Desclieux, a French infantry captain stationed in Martinique. Driven by a burning ambition to grow coffee on the tropical volcanic slopes of the island, in 1723 Desclieux convinced the king’s physician to secure for him a cutting from the precious royal coffee shrub. With his botanical treasure under glass, Desclieux boarded a ship for Martinique. Braving attempted theft of his plant, pirates and rough weather, the determined Frenchman brought the cutting safely to the lush shores of Martinique. 50 years later an official survey recorded 19 million coffee trees on the island! Mighty coffee continued on the move, advancing its position, etablishing domain in the Caribbean.

The gigantic Brazilian coffee industry also got off to an intriguing start in 1727, when a Brazilian official named Francisco de MeloPalheta was called upon  to settle a border dispute between the French and the Dutch colonies in Guiana. There Palheta enlisted the governor’s wife’s willing aid in smuggling out some of the plant. When the good lady said good-bye to Palheta at the completion of his official mission, she presented him with a bouquet in which she hid coffee tree cuttings and fertile seeds of coffee. Palheta returned to Brazil and planted the coffee in Para state. Once again through subterfuge, coffee made its way to a prime growing area and took root. Brazil would become in time the greatest coffee-producing nation in all of history.

While coffee has played a giant role in the furtherance of conversation and commerce, it has also contributed to the power of the military. The noble bean figured heavily in World War II, when U.S. defense workers and troops were supplied with as much coffee as they required. The Army alone requisitioned an astounding 140,000 bags of coffee per month, and the Marines boasted that they drank more coffee than any other branch of the service.

Today, as the world’s most popular beverage, coffee is grown in South America, Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Caribbean and Indonesia. Coffee brands such as Maxwell House and Nescafe are known around the world. And corporations like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Peet’s and Seattle’s Best now fight for U.S. café dominance, with Starbucks currently in the lead. Coffee has accomplished a mighty task. It has spread farther and wider than any plant, it has insinuated itself into the diets and kitchens of hundreds of millions of people, and it has spawned vast commerce. More than 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed each year. Not bad for a bean.

Special thanks to,

Fenugreek boosts growth hormone emission too

You probably know of fenugreek – scientific name Trigonella foenum-graecum – as an herb that boosts testosterone levels and improves the ratio of muscle to fat mass. Well, it might be that you’ll be seeing the same fenugreek as a component in supplements that are supposed to boost growth hormone levels. Korean researchers at Yeungnam University discovered the effect when they did experiments with cells from rats.

The researchers stumbled upon the growth-hormone stimulatory effect of fenugreek when they screened a methanol-based extract of fenugreek using cells from the pituitary gland of rats. The pituitary is a gland in the brain, which, apart from secreting testosterone-stimulating hormones LH and FSH, also secretes growth hormone. The activity of the pituitary increases if the hypothalamus – another gland in the brain – synthesises more LHRH and more GHRH.

Growth Hormone

 The Koreans were looking for substances that stimulate the production of growth hormone as remedies for osteoporosis, muscle decline and other signs of old age. In 2007, 2003 and 2004 they published studies which showed that GH production is boosted by glycyrrhizin and glycyrretic acid in Glycyrrhizae radix, 1-monopalmitin and 1-monlionlein in Astragalus membranaceus and puerarin inPueraria thunbergiana.

In the article we’re writing about here, which was published in 2008 in Chemistry & Biodiversity, the complete methanol extract boosted the production of growth hormone by almost 2200 percent, as shown in the table below. The concentration at which that happened was exceptionally high: 1 mg per millilitre.


When the researchers isolated compounds from the extract and studied them individually, it turned out that two components were active: fenugreek saponin I (compound 1) and dioscin (compound 9). These boosted the GH emission by a factor of 13 and 18 respectively, at a concentration of 20 micrograms per millilitre.




An increasing number of studies – nearly all funded by manufacturers – are revealing that fenugreek extracts have properties that are interesting for athletes. They enhancemuscle mass and muscle power, they stimulate fat burning and endurance capacity and boost men’s sex drive. The theory most posited is that fenugreek extracts boost testosterone production. And fenugreek does indeed do this, but not to the extent that you can expect to see the effects measured.


The Korean study helps explain the paradox: fenugreek does work, but in a different way.


Chem Biodivers. 2008 Sep;5(9):1753-61.


Fenugreek improves effect of creatine more than carbs 08.08.2011
Testofen: fenugreek extract that boosts men’s libido 02.08.2011
Animal study: less fat with fenugreek 05.03.2011
Fenugreek enhances endurance 27.12.2010
Anabolic fenugreek extract Torabolic works inexplicably well 26.12.2010
Andropeak: anabolic furostanols from fenugreek 25.11.2010

What Is Medieval Islamic Medicine?

Medicine was an important part of medieval Islamic life; both rich and poor people were interested in health and diseases. Islamic doctors and a number of scholars wrote profusely on health and developed extensive and complex medical literature on medications, clinical practice, diseases, cures, treatments and diagnoses. Unlike medical literature today, which is specialized, in the medieval Islamic world it was integrated with natural science, astrology, alchemy, religion, philosophy and mathematics.

Islamic medicine built on the legacies left behind by Greek and Roman physicians and scholars. Islamic physicians and scholars were strongly influenced by Galen and Hippocrates, who were viewed as the two fathers of medicine, closely followed by the Greek scholars of Alexandria, Egypt. Most medical literature from both the Greek and Roman civilizations was translated into Arabic, and was later adapted to include their own findings and conclusions.

Islamic scholars were experts in gathering data and placing them in order so that readers could find them easier to understand and search backwards and forwards through various texts. They turned many of the Greek and Roman writings into summaries and encyclopedias.

Put simply, Islamic medicine built on Greek medical tradition and then formed its own. In fact, it was through reading Arabic versions that Western doctors learned of Greek medicine, including the works of Hippocrates and Galen.

The vessels anatomy chart from the collection
of Sami Ibrahim Haddad. Islamic publications
were vastly superior in paper and printing
quality than anything the Greeks or Romans

Islamic medicine was not a subject in its own right in the medieval Islamic world – it was immersed into the culture. The publication of literature was a prestigious profession – paper making was sophisticated, books had illustrations, calligraphy was considered an art in itself. For readers of medicine at the time, those published in the Islamic world were fascinating to read.

From 661 to 750 AD, an early Islamic period called Umayyad, people generally believed that Allah (God) would provide treatment for every illness. By 900 AD Islam started to develop and practice a medical system slanting towards science.

As people became more interested in health and health sciences from a scientific point of view, Islamic doctors strived to find healing procedures, with Allah’s permission, that looked at the natural causes and potential treatments and cures.

The Medieval Islamic world produced some of the greatest medical thinkers in history, they also made advances in surgery, built hospitals, and welcomed women into the medical profession.

Al-Razi and Ibn Sina, two important medical thinkers

Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī

Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī (Al-Razi) (865-925), was a Persian physician, chemist, alchemist, philosopher and scholar. He was the first to distinguish measles from smallpox. He also discovered the chemical kerosene, as well as several other compounds. He became chief physician of Baghdad and Rey hospitals.

Zakariya Razi 001
Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī, known as
“The Father of Pediatrics”

The eminent British historian, Edward Granville Browne (1862 – 1926), said that Al-Razi was “probably the greatest and most original of all the physicians and one of the most prolific as an author”. Razi wrote over 200 scientific books and articles.

Al-Razi, known as the “father of pediatrics”, was a great believer in experimental medicine. He wrote a book called The Diseases of Children, which is probably the first ever to place pediatrics as a separate field of medicine. He also pioneered ophthalmology. He travelled all over Persia teaching medicine. He is said to have been compassionate about treating both rich and poor patients equally.

Al-Razi was the first doctor to write about immunology and allergy. He is thought to have discovered allergic asthma. He was the first person to explain that fever is part of the body’s defense mechanism for fighting disease and infection.

He was also a pharmacist and wrote extensively on the subject, introducing the use of mercurial ointments. Many devices are attributed to him, including spatulas, flasks, mortars, and phials. Regarding medical ethics, Al-Razi wrote:

“The doctor’s aim is to do good, even to our enemies, so much more to our friends, and my profession forbids us to do harm to our kindred, as it is instituted for the benefit and welfare of the human race, and God imposed on physicians the oath not to compose mortiferous remedies.”

He also believed that demons could posses the body and cause mental illness; a common belief at the time.

Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā

Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā (c. 980 -1037), often referred to as Ibn Sina or Avicenna (Latinized name) was a Persian polymath (one with numerous skills and professions) who was a prolific writer. Of 450 books and articles written by him, 240 still exist today, of which 40 focus on medicine.

Canon ibnsina arabic
An Arabic copy of the “Canon of Medicine”

Ibn Sina wrote The Book of Healing, an enormous scientific encyclopedia, as well as The Canon of Medicine, which became essential reading at several medical schools around the world, including the universities of Leuven (Belgium) and Montpellier (France) up to the middle of the sixteenth century. His book was based on the principles of Hippocrates and Galen.

The Canon of Medicine (The Law of Medicine) consists of a 5-volume encyclopedia. It was originally written in Arabic and later translated into several languages, including English, French and German. It is considered one of the most famous and influential books in the history of medicine.

The Canon of Medicine set the standards for medicine in both the Islamic world and Europe. The book is also the basis for a form of traditional medicine in India, known as Unani medicine. The UCLA and Yale Universities in the USA still teach some of the principles described in this work as part of the history of medicine curriculum.

George Sarton (1884-1956), a Belgian chemist and eminent historian, considered as the founder of the discipline of the history of science, wrote in one of his books the Introduction to the History of Science:

“One of the most famous exponents of Muslim universalism and an eminent figure in Islamic learning was Ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna (981-1037). For a thousand years he has retained his original renown as one of the greatest thinkers and medical scholars in history. His most important medical works are the Qanun (Canon) and a treatise on Cardiac drugs. The ‘Qanun’ is an immense encyclopedia of medicine. It contains some of the most illuminating thoughts pertaining to distinction of mediastinitis from pleurisy; contagious nature of phthisis; distribution of diseases by water and soil; careful description of skin troubles; of sexual diseases and perversions; of nervous ailments.”

The Canon mentions how new medicines should be tested, below are quotations which have been adapted to modern English:

  • The active ingredient must be pure, free from any accidental extraneous quality
  • The drug must be used on just one simple disease, not a cluster of diseases
  • Test the medication on two contrary types of diseases. Sometimes the essential qualities of a drug may treat one disease effectively, while curing another by accident
  • A medication’s quality must match the severity of the disease. The heat of one drug may be less than the coldness of a disease, rendering it ineffective
  • The whole process must be timed carefully, so that the drug’s action is clearly noted, rather than any other confounding factor
  • The medication’s efficacy must be consistent, with similar results after experimenting with many patients. Otherwise, the trial can’t tell whether accidental effects were in play
  • Testing must be done on humans, not animals. Testing on a horse or a lion does not prove it will work on humans

Idn Sina’s views on psychology and mental illness were more practical and scientific than Al Razi’s.

Medieval Islam’s contribution to human anatomy and physiology

Ibn al-Nafi, an Arab physician born in Damascus in 1213, is thought to be the first person ever to describe the pulmonary circulation of blood. He said he did not like dissecting human corpses because of his own compassion for the human body and the shari’a (code of law based on the Koran). Medical historians believe he probably did his research with animals.

The Greek physician, Galen, centuries before had said that blood reached the left ventricle in the heart to the right ventricle through invisible passages in the septum. Al-Nafi believed this was wrong. Al-Nafi wrote:

“The blood from the right chamber of the heart must arrive at the left chamber but there is no direct pathway between them. The thick septum of the heart is not perforated and does not have visible pores as some people thought or invisible pores as Galen thought. The blood from the right chamber must flow through the vena arteriosa (pulmonary artery) to the lungs, spread through its substances, be mingled there with air, pass through the arteria venosa (pulmonary vein) to reach the left chamber of the heart and there form the vital spirit…

“The heart has only two ventricles …and between these two there is absolutely no opening. Also dissection gives this lie to what they said, as the septum between these two cavities is much thicker than elsewhere. The benefit of this blood (that is in the right cavity) is to go up to the lungs, mix with what is in the lungs of air, then pass through the arteria venosa to the left cavity of the two cavities of the heart and of that mixture is created the animal spirit.”

Ancient Greek medicine said that a visual spirit in the eye allowed us to see. Ibn al-Haytham (Al-hazen in Latin) (965-c. 1040), an Iraqi Muslim scientist, explained scientifically that the eye is an optical instrument. He described the anatomy of the eye in great detail and later formed theories on image formation. Al-haytham’sBook of Optics became widely read throughout Europe until the 17th century.

Ahmad ibn Abi al-Ash’ath, an Iraqi doctor, described how a full stomach dilates and then contracts after experimenting on live lions. al-Ash’ath preceded William Beaumont by nearly 900 years in carrying out experiments in gastric physiology.

Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (1162-1231), a famous Iraqi physician, historian, Egyptologist and traveler, said that Galen was wrong to say that the lower jaw consists of two parts. On observing the remains of humans who had starved to death in Egypt, he concluded that the lower jaw (mandible) consists of just one bone. In his work, “Book of Instruction and Admonition on the Things Seen end Events Recorded in the Land of Egypt”, he wrote:

“What I saw of this part of the corpses convinced me that the bone of the lower jaw is all one, with no joint nor suture. I have repeated the observation a great number of times, in over two thousand heads…I have been assisted by various different people, who have repeated the same examination, both in my absence and under my eyes..”

Sadly, Al-Badhdadi’s observation was ignored.

Medieval Islamic drugs and remedies

As in Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, Medieval Islamic medications consisted of natural substances, many of which were plant based. Most of the remedies had also been used in ancient Greek and Roman medicines.

  • Mercuric chloride was introduced by Muslim scholars to disinfect wounds.
  • Poppy (Papaver somniferum Linnaeus) – this was used to relieve pain. Poppy seeds contain both codeine and morphine. According to literature, poppy was used to relieve the symptoms of pain from gallbladder stones, fever, toothaches, pleurisy, headaches, and eye pain. It was also used to make people “go to sleep before an operation”. Ali al-Tabariwarned was against taking the extract of poppy leaves, saying they could be deadly, and that opium was a poison.From 800 AD onwards, the use of poppy was restricted to healthcare professionals.
  • Hemp (Cannabis sativa Linnaeus) – Islamic doctors followed Dioscorides’ advice and used the seeds to help during childbirth. Hemp juice was used for earache.
    Hemp came into Islamic countries from India around 900 AD.
  • Fennel – commonly used to calm people down.
  • Garlic – had many uses. It was given to people with heart problems.
  • Willow – was used as an antiseptic

Did Medieval Islamic doctors perform surgery?

Islamic society built many hospitals, and there was much more surgery going on compared to ancient Greece and Rome. Hospitals were called Bimaristan, which means “house of the sick” in Persian.

As there were no proper anesthetics like we have today, it was not possible to carry out sophisticated surgery deep inside the human body. However, doctors used opium to induce sleep before operations.

Many procedures were learnt from Greek and Roman texts.

Surgery was rarely practiced outside hospitals, because of the very high death rate.

Ophthalmologists made advances in surgeries of the eye, and treated patients with cataracts and trachoma.

Cauterization (when the skin or the flesh of a wound is burnt) was a common procedure to prevent infection and stem the bleeding of wounds. Doctors heated a metal rod and placed the red-hot metal on the skin or flesh of a wound; the blood would immediately clot and the wound would have a chance to heal.

Bloodletting was used to restore the balance of humors. Blood would be drained from a vein. Sometimes “wet-cupping” was used to draw blood – a small incision is made on the skin and then a heated cupping glass is placed on it.

Female doctors

Records show that male members of the household did not like having their females being examined by male physicians, unless it was a life-or-death situation. They preferred to have their women and girls examined and treated by females, or by themselves. Even the women were not happy about having a male practitioner present during, for example, childbirth.

Of the great civilizations, it was in Medieval Islam that female doctors started to appear in large numbers.

According to the writings of the “medicine of the prophet”, men could treat women and women could treat men, even if this meant exposing their genitals when circumstances made it necessary. Various documents during that period mention female physicians, midwives and wet nurses.


Ancient Egyptian Medicine

Ancient Egyptian Medicine

The medicine of the ancient Egyptians is some of the oldest documented. From the beginnings of the civilization in the c. 33rd century BC until the Persian invasion of 525 BC, Egyptian medical practice went largely unchanged and was highly advanced for its time, including simple non-invasive surgery, setting of bones and an extensive set of pharmacopoeia. Egyptian medical thought influenced later traditions, including the Greeks.

Until the 19th century, the main sources of information about ancient Egyptian medicine were writings from later in antiquity. Homer c. 800 BC remarked in the Odyssey: “In Egypt, the men are more skilled in medicine than any of human kind” and “the Egyptians were skilled in medicine more than any other art”.

The Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt around 440 BC and wrote extensively of his observations of their medicinal practices. Pliny the Elder also wrote favorably of them in historical review. Hippocrates (the “father of medicine”), Herophilos, Erasistratus and later Galen studied at the temple of Amenhotep, and acknowledged the contribution of ancient Egyptian medicine to Greek medicine.

In 1822, the translation of the Rosetta stone finally allowed the translation of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions and papyri, including many related to medical matters (Egyptian medical papyri). The resultant interest in Egyptology in the 19th century led to the discovery of several sets of extensive ancient medical documents, including the Ebers papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the Hearst Papyrus, the London Medical Papyrus and others dating back as far as 3000 BC.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus (see below) is a textbook on surgery and details anatomical observations and the “examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis” of numerous ailments It was probably written around 1600 BC, but is regarded as a copy of several earlier texts. Medical information in it dates from as early as 3000 BC. Imhotep in the 3rd dynasty is credited as the original author of the papyrus text, and founder of ancient Egyptian medicine. The earliest known surgery was performed in Egypt around 2750 BC.

The Ebers Papyrus (see below) c. 1550 BC is full of incantations and foul applications meant to turn away disease-causing demons, and also includes 877 prescriptions. It may also contain the earliest documented awareness of tumors, if the poorly understood ancient medical terminology has been correctly interpreted. Other information comes from the images that often adorn the walls of Egyptian tombs and the translation of the accompanying inscriptions.

Advances in modern medical technology also contributed to the understanding of ancient Egyptian medicine. Paleopathologists were able to use X-Rays and later CAT Scans to view the bones and organs of mummies. Electron microscopes, mass spectrometry and various forensic techniques allowed scientists unique glimpses of the state of health in Egypt 4000 years ago.

Other documents as the Edwin Smith papyrus (1550 BC), Hearst papyrus (1450 BC), and Berlin papyrus (1200 BC) also provide valuable insight into ancient Egyptian medicine. The Edwin Smith papyrus for example mentioned research methods, the making of a diagnosis of the patient, and the setting of a treatment. It is thus viewed as a learning manual. Treatments consisted of ailments made from i.e. animal, vegetable or fruit substances or minerals.




The Edwin Smith Papyrus

The Edwin Smith Papyrus is an Ancient Egyptian medical text on surgical trauma. It dates to Dynasties 16-17 of the Second Intermediate Period in Ancient Egypt, ca. 1600 BCE. The Edwin Smith papyrus is unique among the medical papyri that survive today. While other papyri, such as the Ebers Papyrus and London Medical Papyrus, are medical texts based in magic, the Edwin Smith Papyrus presents a rational and scientific approach to medicine in Ancient Egypt.

The Edwin Smith papyrus is 4.68 m in length, divided into 17 pages. The recto, the front side, is 377 lines long, while the verso, the backside, is 92 lines long. Aside from the fragmentary first sheet of the papyrus, the remainder of the papyrus is fairly intact.

It is written in hieratic, the Egyptian cursive form of hieroglyphs, in black and red ink. The vast majority of the papyrus is concerned with trauma and surgery. On the recto side, there are 48 cases of injury. Each case details the type of the injury, examination of the patient, diagnosis and prognosis, and treatment.The verso side consists of eight magic spells and five prescriptions. The spells of the verso side and two incidents in Case 8 and Case 9 are the exceptions to the practical nature of this medical text.

Authorship of the Edwin Smith Papyrus is debated. The majority of the papyrus was written by one scribe, with only small sections written by a second scribe. The papyrus ends abruptly in the middle of a line, without any inclusion of an author.

It is believed that the papyrus is based upon an earlier text from the Old Kingdom. Form and commentary included in the papyrus give evidence to the existence of an earlier document. The text is attributed by some to Imhotep, an architect, high priest, and physician of the Old Kingdom, 3000-2500 BCE,.

The rational and practical nature of the papyrus is illustrated in the 48 cases. The papyrus begins by addressing injuries to the head, and continues with treatments for injuries to neck, arms and torso.[9] The title of each case details the nature of trauma, such as ÒPractices for a gaping wound in his head, which has penetrated to the bone and split the skullÓ.

Next, the examination provides further details of the trauma. The diagnosis and prognosis follow the examination. Last, treatment options are offered. In many of the cases, explanations of trauma are included to provide further clarity.

Among the treatments are closing wounds with sutures (for wounds of the lip, throat, and shoulder), preventing and curing infection with honey, and stopping bleeding with raw meat. Immobilization is advised for head and spinal cord injuries, as well as other lower body fractures. The papyrus also describes anatomical observations. It contains the first known descriptions of the cranial sutures, the meninges, the external surface of the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid, and the intracranial pulsations.

The procedures of this papyrus demonstrate an Egyptian level of knowledge of medicines that surpassed that of Hippocrates, who lived 1000 years later. Due to its practical nature and the types of trauma investigated, it is believed that the papyrus served as a textbook for the trauma that resulted from military battles.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus dates to Dynasties 16-17 of the Second Intermediate Period. Egypt was ruled from Thebes during this time and the papyrus is likely to have originated from there. Edwin Smith purchased in Luxor, Egypt in 1862, from an Egyptian dealer named Mustafa Agha.

The papyrus was in the possession of Smith until his death, when his daughter donated the papyrus to New York Historical Society. From 1938 through 1948, the papyrus was at the Brooklyn Museum. In 1948, the New York Historical Society and the Brooklyn Museum presented the papyrus to the New York Academy of Medicine, where it remains today.

The first translation of the papyrus was by James Henry Breasted, with the medical advice of Dr. Arno B Luckhardt, in 1930 BreastedÕs translation changed the understanding of the history of medicine. It demonstrates that Egyptian medical care was not limited to the magical modes of healing demonstrated in other Egyptian medical sources. Rational, scientific practices were used, constructed through observation and examination.

From 2005 through 2006, the Edwin Smith Papyrus was on exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. James P. Allen, curator of Egyptian Art at the museum, published a new translation of the work, coincident with the exhibition. This was the first complete English translation since BreastedÕs in 1930. This translation offers a more modern understanding of hieratic and medicine.




The Ebers Papyrus

The Ebers Papyrus, also known as Papyrus Ebers, is an Egyptian medical papyrus dating to circa 1550 BC. Among the oldest and most important medical papyri of ancient Egypt, it was purchased at Luxor, (Thebes) in the winter of 1873Ð74 by Georg Ebers. It is currently kept at the library of the University of Leipzig, in Germany.

The papyrus was written in about 1500 BC, but it is believed to have been copied from earlier texts, perhaps dating as far back as 3400 BC. Ebers Papyrus is a 110-page scroll, which is about 20 meters long.

Along with the Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (circa 1800 BC), the Edwin Smith papyrus (circa 1600 BC), the Hearst papyrus (circa 1600 BC), the Brugsch Papyrus (circa 1300 BC), the London Medical Papyrus (circa 1300 BC), the Ebers Papyrus is among the oldest preserved medical documents. The Brugsch Papyrus provides parallel passages to Ebers Papyrus, helping to clarify certain passages of the latter.

The Ebers Papyrus is written in hieratic Egyptian writing and preserves for us the most voluminous record of ancient Egyptian medicine known. The scroll contains some 700 magical formulas and remedies. It contains many incantations meant to turn away disease-causing demons and there is also evidence of a long tradition of empirical practice and observation.

The papyrus contains a “treatise on the heart”. It notes that the heart is the center of the blood supply, with vessels attached for every member of the body.

The Egyptians seem to have known little about the kidneys and made the heart the meeting point of a number of vessels which carried all the fluids of the body – blood, tears, urine and semen.

Mental disorders are detailed in a chapter of the papyrus called the Book of Hearts. Disorders such as depression and dementia are covered.

The descriptions of these disorders suggest that Egyptians conceived of mental and physical diseases in much the same way. The papyrus contains chapters on contraception, diagnosis of pregnancy and other gynecological matters, intestinal disease and parasites, eye and skin problems, dentistry and the surgical treatment of abscesses and tumors, bone-setting and burns.


Examples of remedies in the Ebers Papyrus include:


      Asthma: A mixture of herbs heated on a brick so that the sufferer could inhale their fumes.

Belly: “For the evacuation of the belly: Cow’s milk 1; grains 1; honey 1; mash, sift, cook; take in four portions.”

Bowels: “To remedy the bowels: Melilot, 1; dates, 1; cook in oil; anoint sick part.”

Cancer: Recounting a “tumor against the god Xenus”, it recommends “do thou nothing there against”.

Clothing: may be protected from mice and rats by applying cat’s fat.

Death: Half an onion and the froth of beer was considered “a delightful remedy against death.”

Dracunculiasis (Guinea worm): Wrap the emerging end of the worm around a stick and slowly pull it out. (3500 years later, this remains the standard treatment.

Medicinal use of ochre clays: One of the common remedies described in the papyrus is ochre, or medicinal clay. For example, it is prescribed for various intestinal complaints. It is also prescribed for various eye complaints. Yellow ochre is also described as a remedy for urological complaints.

Modern history of the papyrus

Like the Edwin Smith Papyrus, the Ebers Papyrus came into the possession of Edwin Smith in 1862. The source of the papyrus is unknown, but it was said to have been found between the legs of a mummy in the Assassif district of the Theban necropolis.

The papyrus remained in the collection of Edwin Smith until at least 1869 when there appeared, in the catalog of an antiquities dealer, an advertisement for “a large medical papyrus in the possession of Edwin Smith, an American farmer of Luxor.” (Breasted 1930)

The Papyrus was purchased in 1872 by the German Egyptologist and novelist Georg Ebers (born in Berlin, 1837), after whom it is named. In 1875, Ebers published a facsimile with an English-Latin vocabulary and introduction, but it was not translated until 1890, by H. Joachim.

Ebers retired from his chair of Egyptology at Leipzig on a pension and the papyrus remains in the University of Leipzig library. An English translation of the Papyrus was published by Paul Ghalioungui. The papyrus was published and translated by different researchers (the most valuable is German edition Grundriss der Medizin der alten €gypter, and based on this Paul Ghalioungui edition).




Kahun Gynecological Papyrus

The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (also Kahun Papyrus, Kahun Medical Papyrus, or UC 32057) is the oldest known medical text of any kind. Dated to about 1800 BCE, it deals with women’s healthÑgynaecological diseases, fertility, pregnancy, contraception, etc.

It was found at El-Lahun by Flinders Petrie in 1889 and first translated by F. Ll. Griffith in 1893 and published in The Petrie Papyri: Hieratic Papyri from Kahun and Gurob. The later Berlin Papyrus and the Ramesseum Papyrus IV cover much of the same ground, often giving identical prescriptions.

The text is divided into thirty-four sections, each section dealing with a specific problem and containing diagnosis and treatment; no prognosis is suggested. Treatments are non-surgical, comprising applying medicines to the affected body part or swallowing them. The womb is at times seen as the source of complaints manifesting themselves in other body parts.

The first seventeen parts have a common format starting with a title and are followed by a brief description of the symptoms, usually, though not always, having to do with the reproductive organs. P> The second section begins on the third page, and comprises eight paragraphs which, because of both the state of the extant copy and the language, are almost unintelligible. Despite this, there are several paragraphs that have a sufficiently clear level of language as well as being intact which can be understood.

Paragraph 19 is concerned with the recognition of who will give birth; paragraph 20 is concerned with the fumigation procedure which causes conception to occur; and paragraphs 20-22 are concerned with contraception. Among those materials prescribed for contraception are crocodile dung, 45ml of honey, and sour milk.

The third section (paragraphs 26-32) is concerned with the testing for pregnancy. Other methods include the placing of an onion bulb deep in the patients flesh, with the positive outcome being determined by the odor appearing to the patients nose.

The fourth and final section contains two paragraphs which do not fall into any of the previous categories. The first prescribes treatment for toothaches during pregnancy. The second describes what appears to be a fistula between bladder and vagina with incontinence of urine “in an irksome place.”



Spices such as Cumin, Fenugreek and Corriander were used as medicine in Ancient Egypt.




Herbal Remedies


  • Acacia (acacia nilotica)- vermifuge, eases diharea and internal bleeding, also used to treat skin diseases.
  • Aloe vera – worms, relieves headaches, soothes chest pains, burns, ulcers and for skin disease and allergies.
  • Basil (ocimum basilicum)- excellent for heart.
  • Balsam Apple (malus sylvestris)or Apple of Jerusalem – laxative, skin allergies, soothes headaches, gums and teeth, for asthma, liver stimulant, weak digestion.
  • Bayberry(Myrica cerifera) – stops diarrhea, soothes ulcers, shrinks hemorrhoids, repels flies.
  • Belladonna – pain reliever;camphor tree – reduces fevers, soothes gums, soothes epilepsy.
  • Caraway (Carum carvi; Umbelliferae)- soothes flatulence, digestive, breath freshener.
  • Cardamom( Eletarria cardamomum; Zingiberacae)- Used as a spice in foods,digestive, soothes flatulence.
  • Colchicum (Citrullus colocynthus) – also known as “Meadow Saffron”, soothes rheumatism, reduces swelling.
  • Common Juniper tree (Juniperis phonecia; Juniperus drupacea)- digestive, soothes chest pains, soothes stomach cramps.
  • Cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba; Piperaceae)- urinary tract infections, larynx and throat infections, gum ulcers and infections, soothes headaches.
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)- soothes flatulence, relieves dyspepsia, laxative and diuretic properties.
  • Fenugreek(Trigonella foenum-graecum) – respiratory disorders, cleanses the stomach, calms the liver, soothes pancreas, reduces swelling.
  • Frankincense(Boswellia carterii) – throat and larynx infections, stops bleeding, cuts phlegm, asthma, stops vomiting.
  • Garlic (Allium sativa) – gives vitality, soothes flatulence and aids digestion, mild laxative, shrinks hemorrhoids, rids body of “spirits” (note, during the building of the Pyramids, the workers were given garlic daily to give them the vitality and strength to carry on and perform well).
  • Henna (Lawsomia inermis) – astringent, stops diarrhea, close open wounds (and used as a dye).
  • Honey was widely used, a natural antibiotic and used to dress wounds and as a base for healing unguants, as was castor oil, coriander,beer and other foods.
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra – mild laxative, expels phlegm, soothes liver, pancreas and chest and respiratory problems.
  • Mustard (Sinapis alba) – induces vomiting, relieves chest pains.
  • Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) – stops diarrhea, relives headaches, soothes gums, toothaches and backaches.
  • Onion (Allium cepa) – diuretic, induces perspiration, prevents colds, soothes sciatica, relieves pains and other cardiovascular problems.
  • Parsley (Apium petroselinum) – diuretic.
  • Mint (Mentha piperita) – soothes flatulence, aids digestion, stops vomiting, breath freshener.
  • Sandalwood (Santallum albus) – aids digestion, stops diarrhea, soothes headaches and gout (used, of course, in incense).
  • Sesame (Sesamum indicum)- soothes asthma.
  • Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)- laxative.
  • Thyme (Thymus/Thimbra) – pain reliever.
  • Tumeric (Curcumae longa) – closes open wounds (also was used to dye skin and cloth).
  • Poppy (papaver somniferum) – relieves insomnia, relieves headaches, anesthetic, soothes respiratory problems, deadens pain.


    Fundamentally when considering the health of any culture nutrition must be discussed. The Ancient Egyptians were at least partially aware of the importance of diet, both in balance and moderation. Due to Egypt’s great endowment of fertile land food production was never a major issue although of course no matter how bounteous the land paupers and starvation still exist.

    The main crops for most of ancient Egyptian history were wheat and barley (See Diet). Consumed in the form of loaves which were produced in a variety of types through baking and fermentation, with yeast greatly enriching the nutritional value of the product, one farmer’s crop could support an estimated twenty adults. Barley was also used in beer. Vegetables and fruits of many types were widely grown.

    Oil was produced from the linseed plant and there was a limited selections of spices and herbs. Meat (sheep, goats, pigs, wild game) was regularly available to at least the upper classes and fish were widely consumed, although there is evidence of prohibitions during certain periods against certain types of animal products; Herodotus wrote of the pig as being ‘unclean’.



    Doctors and Other Healers
    The medical profession of Ancient Egypt had its own hierarchy. At the top was the chief medical officer of Egypt. Under him were the superintendents and inspectors of physicians, and beneath then were the physicians. Egyptian doctors were very advanced in their knowledge of herbal remedies and surgical techniques. Also part of Egyptian medicine were magic, charms, and spells, which had only psychological effects, if any, on a patient.

    The ancient Egyptian word for doctor is “wabau”. This title has a long history. The earliest recorded physician in the world, Hesy-Ra, practiced in ancient Egypt. He was Chief of Dentists and Physicians to King Djoser, who ruled in the 27th century BC. The lady Peseshet (2400 BC) may be the first recorded female doctor: she was possibly the mother of Akhethotep, and on a stela dedicated to her in his tomb she is referred to as imy-r swnwt, which has been translated as “Lady Overseer of the Lady Physicians.”

    There were many ranks and specializations in the field of medicine. Royalty employed their own swnw, even their own specialists. There were inspectors of doctors, overseers and chief doctors. Known ancient Egyptian specialists are ophthalmologist, gastroenterologist, proctologist, dentist, “doctor who supervises butchers” and an unspecified “inspector of liquids”. The ancient Egyptian term for proctologist, neru phuyt, literally translates as “shepherd of the anus”.

    Institutions, so called Houses of Life, are known to have been established in ancient Egypt since the 1st Dynasty and may have had medical functions, being at times associated in inscriptions with physicians, such as Peftauawyneit and Wedjahorresnet living in the middle of the first millennium BC. By the time of the 19th Dynasty their employees enjoyed such benefits as medical insurance, pensions and sick leave.



    Medical knowledge in ancient Egypt had an excellent reputation, and rulers of other empires would ask the Egyptian pharaoh to send them their best physician to treat their loved ones. Egyptians had some knowledge of human anatomy. For example, in the classic mummification process, mummifiers knew how to insert a long hooked implement through a nostril, breaking the thin bone of the brain case and remove the brain.

    They also must have had a general idea of the location in the body cavity of the inner organs, which they removed through a small incision in the left groin. But whether this knowledge was passed on to the practitioners of medicine is unknown and does not seem to have had any impact on their medical theories.

    Egyptian physicians were aware of the existence of the pulse and of a connection between pulse and heart. The author of the Smith Papyrus even had a vague idea of a cardiac system, although not of blood circulation and he was unable, or deemed it unimportant, to distinguish between blood vessels, tendons, and nerves. They developed their theory of “channels” that carried air, water and blood to the body by analogies with the River Nile; if it became blocked, crops became unhealthy and they applied this principle to the body: If a person was unwell, they would use laxatives to unblock the “channels”.

    Quite a few medical practices were effective, such as many of the surgical procedures given in the Edwin Smith papyrus. Mostly, the physicians’ advice for staying healthy was to wash and shave the body, including under the arms, and this may have prevented infections. They also advised patients to look after their diet, and avoid foods such as raw fish or other animals considered to be unclean.



    Medical Kit
    1) knives; (2) drill; (3) saw; (4) forceps or pincers; (5) censer; (6) hooks; (7) bags tied with string; (8, 10) beaked vessel; (11) vase with burning incense; (12) Horus eyes; (13) scales; (14) pot with flowers of Upper and Lower Egypt; (15) pot on pedestal; (16) graduated cubit or papyrus scroll without side knot (or a case holding reed scalpels); (17) shears; (18) spoons.



    Surgery was a common practice among physicians as treatment for physical injuries. The Egyptian physicians recognized three categories of injuries; treatable, contestable, and untreatable ailments. Treatable ailments the surgeons would quickly set to right. Contestable ailments were those where the victim could presumably survive without treatment, so patients assumed to be in this category were observed and if they survived then surgical attempts could be made to fix them. Surgical tools uncovered in archaeological sites have included knives, hooks, drills, forceps and pinchers, scales, spoons, saws and a vase with burning incense.

    Circumcision of the males was likely the norm although there is little evidence. Though its performance as a procedure was rarely mentioned, the uncircumcised nature of other cultures was frequently noted, the uncircumcised nature of the Liberians was frequently referenced and military campaigns brought back uncircumcised phalli as trophies, which suggests novelty.

    Although other records describe initiates into the religious orders as involving circumcision which would imply that the practice was special and not widespread. The only known depiction of the procedure, in the The Tomb of the Physician, burial place of Ankh-Mahor at Saqquarra, shows adolescents or adults, not babies. Female circumcision may have been practiced, although the single reference to it in ancient texts may be a mistranslation.

    Prosthetics, such as artificial toes and eyeballs, were also used; typically, they served little more than decorative purposes. In preparation for burial, missing body parts would be replaced (but these do not appear as if they would have been useful, or even attachable) before death.

    The extensive use of surgery, mummification practices, and autopsy as a religious exercise gave Egyptians a vast knowledge of the body’s morphology, and even a considerable understanding of organ functions. The function of most major organs were correctly presumed – for example, blood was correctly guessed to be a transpiration medium for vitality and waste which is not to far from its actual role in carrying oxygen and removing carbon dioxide – with the exception of the heart and brain whose functions were switched.



    Dentistry was an important field, as an independent profession it dated from the early third millennium BC, although it may not have never been prominent. The Egyptian diet was high on abrasives such as sand left over from grinding grain) and so the condition of their teeth was quite poor, although archaeologists have noted a steady decrease in severity and incidence throughout 4000 BC to 1000 AD probably due to improved grain grinding techniques.

    All Egyptian remains have sets of teeth in quite poor states. Dental disease could even be fatal, such as for Djedmaatesankh a musician from Thebes who dies around the age of thirty five from extensive dental diseases and a huge infected cyst. If an individuals teeth escaped being worn down, cavities were rare in consequence of the rarity of sweeteners.

    Dental treatment was infective and the best sufferers could hope for was the quick loss of an infected tooth. The Instruction of Ankhsheshonq contains the maxim “There is no tooth that rots yet stays in place”. No records document the hastening of this process and no tools suited for the extraction of teeth have been found but some remains show sign of forced tooth removal. Replacement teeth have been found to exist although it is not clear whether or not this is just post-mortem cosmetics. Extreme pain might have been medicated with opium.



    Bacterial and Viral Infections
    Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis)

    Ruffer (1910) reported the presence of tuberculosis of the spine in Nesparehan, a priest of Amun of the 21st Dynasty. This shows the typical features of Pott’s disease with collapse of thoracic vertebra, producing the angular kyphosis (hump-back). A well known complication of Pott’s disease is the tuberculous suppuration moving downward under the psoas major muscle, towards the right iliac fossa, forming a very large psoas abscess.(Nunn 1996:64)

    Ruffer’s report has remained the best authenticated case of spinal tuberculosis from ancient Egypt. All known possible cases, ranging from the Predynastic to 21st Dynasty were reviewed by Morse, Brockwell, and Ucko (1964) as well as by Buikstra, Baker, and Cook.(1993) These included Predynastic specimens collected at Naqada by Petrie and Quibell in 1895 as well as nine Nubian Specimens from the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Both reviewers were in agreement that there was very little doubt that tuberculosis was the cause of pathology in most, but not all, cases. In some cases, it was not possible to exclude compression fractures, osteomyelitis, or bone cysts as causes of death.

    The numerous artistic representation of hump-backed individuals are provocative but not conclusive. The three earliest examples are undoubtedly of Predynastic origin. The first is a ceramic figurine reported to have been found by Bedu in the Aswan district. It represents an emaciated human with angular kyphosis of the thoracic spine crouching in a clay vessel.(Schrumph-Pierron 1933) The second possible Predynastic representation with spinal deformity indicative of tuberculosis is a small standing ivory likeness of a human with arms down at the sides of the body bent at the elbows.

    The head is modeled with facial features carefully indicated. The figure is shown with a protrusion of the back and on the chest.(Morse 1967: 261) The last Predynastic example is a wooden statue contained within the Brussels Museum. Described as a bearded male with intricate facial features, the figure has a large rounded hunch-back and an angular projection of the sternum.(Jonckheere 1948: 25)

    As well, there are several historic Egyptian representations which indicate the possibility of tuberculosis deformity. One of the most suggestive, located in and Old Kingdom 4th Dynasty tomb, is of a bas relief serving girl who exhibits localized angular kyphosis. A second provocative example has its origin in the Middle Kingdom. A tomb painting at Beni Hasan, the representation shows a gardener with a localized angular deformity of the cervical-thoracic spine.(Morse 1967: 263)


    A viral infection of the anterior horn cells of the spinal chord, the presence of poliomyelitis can only be detected in those who survive its acute stage. Mitchell (Sandison 1980:32) noted the shortening of the left leg, which he interpreted as poliomyelitis, in the an early Egyptian mummy from Deshasheh. The club foot of the Pharaoh Siptah as well as deformities in the 12th Dynasty mummy of Khnumu-Nekht are probably the most attributable cases of poliomyelitis.

    An 18th or 19th Dynasty funerary staele shows the doorkeeper Roma with a grossly wasted and shortened leg accompanied by an equinus deformity of the foot. The exact nature of this deformity, however, is debated in the medical community.

    Some favor the view that this is a case of poliomyelitis contracted in childhood before the completion of skeletal growth. The equinus deformity, then, would be a compensation allowing Roma to walk on the shortened leg. Alternatively, the deformity could be the result of a specific variety of club foot with a secondary wasting and shortening of the leg.(Nunn 1996: 77)




    Dasen (1993) lists 207 known representations of dwarfism. Of the types described, the majority are achondroplastic, a form resulting in a head and trunk of normal size with shortened limbs. The statue of Seneb is perhaps the most classic example. A tomb statue of the dwarf Seneb and his family, all of normal size, goes a long way to indicate that dwarfs were accepted members in Egyptian society. Other examples called attention to by Ruffer (1911) include the 5th Dynasty statuette of Chnoum-hotep from Saqqara, a Predynastic drawing of the “dwarf Zer” from Abydos, and a 5th Dynasty drawing of a dwarf from the tomb of Deshasheh.

    Skeletal evidence, while not supporting the social status of dwarfs in Egyptian society, does corroborate the presence of the deformity. Jones described a fragmentary Predynastic skeleton from the cemetery at Badari with a normal shaped cranium both in size in shape. In contrast to this, however, the radii and ulna are short and robust, a characteristic of achondroplasia. A second case outlined by Jones consisted of a Predynastic femur and tibia, both with typical short shafts and relatively large articular ends.

    Breasted, J.H. The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus



    Magic and Religion
    Magic and religion were an integral part of everyday life in ancient Egypt. Evil gods and demons were thought to be responsible for many ailments, so often the treatments involved a supernatural element, such as beginning treatment with an appeal to a deity. There does not appear to have existed a clear distinction between what nowadays one would consider the very distinct callings of priest and physician. The healers, many of them priests of Sekhmet, often used incantations and magic as part of treatment.

    The widespread belief in magic and religion may have resulted in a powerful placebo effect; that is, the perceived validity of the cure may have contributed to its effectiveness. The impact of the emphasis on magic is seen in the selection of remedies or ingredients for them. Ingredients were sometimes selected seemingly because they were derived from a substance, plant or animal that had characteristics which in some way corresponded to the symptoms of the patient. This is known as the principle of simila similibus (“similar with similar”) and is found throughout the history of medicine up to the modern practice of homeopathy. Thus an ostrich egg is included in the treatment of a broken skull, and an amulet portraying a hedgehog might be used against baldness.


    Amulets in general were very popular, being worn for many magical purposes. Health related amulets are classified as homeopoetic, phylactic and theophoric. Homeopoetic amulets portray an animal or part of an animal, from which the wearer hopes to gain positive attributes like strength or speed. Phylactic amulets protected against harmful gods and demons. The famous Eye of Horus was often used on a phylactic amulet. Theophoric amulets represented Egyptian gods; one represented the girdle of Isis and was intended to stem the flow of blood at miscarriage. They were often made of bone, hanging from a leather strap.



    Magic, Medicine Eased Ancient Egyptian Headaches
    January 2002 – Reuters – NY

    Can’t beat that headache? Why not try an incantation to falcon-headed Horus, or a soothing poultice of “Ass’s grease”? According to researchers, 3,500-year-old papyri show ancient Egyptians turning to both their gods and medicine to banish headache pain.

    “The border between magic and medicine is a modern invention; such distinctions did not exist for ancient healers,” explain Dr. Axel Karenberg, a medical historian, and Dr. C. Leitz, an Egyptologist, both of the University of Cologne, Germany.

    In a recent issue of the journal Cephalalgia, the researchers report on their study of papyrus scrolls dating from the early New Kingdom period of Egyptian history, about 1550 BC. Ancient Egyptian healers had only the barest understanding of anatomy or medicine. Indeed, while the head was considered the “leader” of the body, the brain itself was considered relatively unimportant–as evidenced by the fact that it was usually discarded during the mummification process.

    Headache, that timeless bane of humanity, was usually ascribed to the activity of “demons,” the German researchers write, although over time Egyptian physicians began to speculate that problems originating within the body, such as the incomplete digestion of food, might also be to blame.

    Once beset with a headache, those living under the pharaohs turned to their gods for help. One incantation sought to evoke the gods’ empathy, imagining that even immortals suffered headache pain. “‘My head! My head!’ said Horus,” reads one papyrus. “‘The side of my head!’ said Thoth. ‘Ache of my forehead,’ said Horus. ‘Upper part of my forehead!’ said Thoth.”

    In this way, Karenberg and Leitz write, “the patient is identified with (the gods) Horus and Thoth,” the latter being the god of magicians and wise men. The incantation continues with the sun god Ra ordering the patient to recover “up to your temples,” while the patient threatens his “headache demons” with terrible punishments (“the trunk of your body will be cut off”).

    Still, the gods may have ignored the pleas of many patients, who also turned to medicine for relief. According to one ancient text, these included a poultice made of “skull of catfish,” with the patient’s head being “rubbed therewith for four days.” Other prescriptions included stag’s horn, lotus, frankincense and a concoction made from donkey called “Ass’s grease.” Even these remedies could be divinely inspired, however. On one 4,000-year-old scroll, a boastful druggist claims that his headache cure is prepared by the goddess Isis herself.



What Is Ancient Roman Medicine?

Ancient Rome was a flourishing civilization that started around 800 BC and existed for approximately 1200 years. It started off in Rome, and grew into one of the largest and most powerful empires in ancient history. It was ruled initially by monarchs, then became an aristocratic republic, and shifted towards being a progressively more repressive empire. The empire spread to Southern, Western and parts of Eastern Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa. In many ways, the Roman and Greek empires shared a number values and systems.

As far as health was concerned, the Romans were more interested in prevention than cure. Public health facilities were encouraged throughout the empire. Roman medicine grew out of what military doctors learnt and demanded.

Initially, the Romans resisted the practices and theories that came from Greece. Roman medicine did not go backwards after Greece, it took a slightly different direction. Eventually, Roman scientists and doctors, many of them from Greece, continued researching Greek theories of diseases and physical and mental disorders.

The Romans were great warriors; the empire poured considerable resources into the basis of its power – the armies. It was by observing their soldiers’ health that Roman leaders began to realize the importance of public health.

Greece’s influence, nevertheless, on Roman medicine was huge. The first doctors in Rome came from Greece; they were prisoners of war. Later on Greek doctors would emigrate to Rome because they would earn more money there than back home.

When the Romans conquered Alexandria, they found various libraries and universities which the Greeks had set up. There was a wealth of documented knowledge of medicine in Alexandria, as well as several learning centers and places for research. The Romans allowed them to carry on their research. However, unlike the Greeks, the Romans did not like the idea of dissecting dead people.

The Romans eventually adopted the Greek theory about the four humors. The spiritual beliefs that surrounded medicine in Greece was also common in Roman medicine.

Roman civilization developed into a massive empire, unlike the Greek civilization which consisted of many small city-states. The Roman empire was centralized; the emperor in Rome was all-powerful and wielded his power, will and laws throughout the empire.

Roman wealth went more into practical projects and less into culture and philosophy. The Romans built aqueducts to pipe water to cites, sewers in their capital city, and public baths everywhere. They were proud of their projects, which they described as “useful”, and not “useless Greek buildings” or “idle Egyptian pyramids”.

The sewage system in Rome was so advanced, that nothing like it was built again until the late 17th century AD. Despite their impressive projects which helped improve public health, they were not yet aware of the association of germs with diseases.

The Romans had tools, painkillers and hospitals

Roman surgeons, most of whom got their practical experience on the battlefield, carried a tool kit which contained arrow extractors, catheters, scalpels and forceps. They used to sterilize their equipment in boiling water before usage.

Sommer, Giorgio (1834-1914) - n. 11141 - Museo di Napoli - Strumenti di chirurgia

Various Roman surgical tools found at Pompeii by archeologist Giorgio Sommer (1834-1914)

Surgical procedures were performed using opium and scopolamine as painkillers, and acid vinegar (acetum) to clean up wounds. They did not have what we would consider as effective anesthetics for complicated surgical procedures; it is doubtful they carried out surgical operations deep inside the body.

The Romans also had midwifery instruments, many of which would seem rather barbaric today. Cesarean sections were performed, but the mother would not survive.

Unlike the Greeks who would place their patients in temples in the hope that the gods might help cure them, the Romans had purpose-built hospitals where patients could rest and have a much better chance of recovering. In hospital settings, doctors were able to observe sick patients, instead of depending on supernatural forces to perform miracles.

By not allowing doctors to dissect corpses, Roman doctors were rather limited in human anatomy research. Even though some of their progress was undermined by initially rejecting Greek ideas about medicine, they made great progress in trying to understand what causes diseases, and then finding ways of preventing them.

How did Roman doctors learn about the human body?

Gladiators were often wounded, sometimes badly, and doctors had to treat them, and learnt about the human body. Galen (AD 129 – circa 200/216) , a prominent Greek physician, had to make do with dissecting animals to further his research. Galen believed that monkeys that walked like humans, on two legs, would most likely provide scientists with knowledge that could be applied to humans.

Galen, who moved from Greece to Rome in 162AD, became an expert on human anatomy. He was a popular lecturer and soon became a well-known reputable, sought-after doctor. Consul Flavius Boethius, one of his patients, introduced him to the imperial court; he soon became Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ personal physician.

Galen did dissect some corpses – once he dissected a hanged criminal, as well as some bodies that has become unearthed in a cemetery during a flood. Even so, he made several mistakes when analyzing how the human body works.

Galen wrote several medical books, in which he displayed excellent knowledge of bone structure. He realized that the brain tells muscles what to do when he cut the spinal cord of a pig and observed it.

Medical theories were sometimes very close to what we know today. Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC – 27 BC) believed disease was caused by miniature creatures too small for the naked eye to see (bacteria and viruses are too small to see). Others were still looking up at the sky – Crinas of Massilia was sure that our illnesses were caused by the stars. Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (AD 4 – circa AD 70), an agricultural writer, thought diseases came from swamp vapors. Many of these beliefs prevailed until a couple of hundred years ago.

How did Roman doctors diagnose and treat patients?

Roman physicians were strongly influenced by what the Greeks used to do, and would carry out a thorough physical exam of the patient. Many of their treatments were also influenced by Greek practices. Roman diagnosis and treatment of patients consisted of a combination of Greek medicine and some local practices.

Some Roman doctors were impressive in their claims. Galen said that by following Greek practice he never misdiagnosed or made a wrong prognosis. Progress in diagnosis, treatment and prognosis in Ancient Rome was slow and patchy; doctors tended to develop their own theories and diverged in several different directions.

They did have a wide range of herbal medicines and other remedies:

  • Fennel – was widely used for people with nervous disorders. Romans believed fennel calmed the nerves.
  • Unwashed wool – was used for sores
  • Elecampane (horse heal) – was given to patients with digestive problems.
  • Egg yolk – was given to patients with dysentery
  • Sage – said to have had more religious value, and used by those who still believed that the gods could heal them.
  • Garlic – doctors said garlic was good for the heart
  • Boiled liver – was administered to patients with sore eyes
  • Fenugreek – often administered to patients with lung diseases, especially pneumonia
  • Silphium – was used as a form of contraceptive, as well as for fever, cough, indigestion, sore throat, aches and pains, warts. Nobody is sure what Silphium was; historians believe it is an extinct plant of the genus Ferula, possibly a variety of giant fennel.
  • Willow – used as an antiseptic

Pedanius Dioscorides (circa 40-90 AD), was a Greek botanist, pharmacologist and physician who practiced in Rome when Nero was ruler. He became a famous Roman Army doctor. Dioscorides wrote a 5-volume encyclopedia – De Materia Medica – which listed over 600 herbal cures. It also had a pharmacopeia. De Materia Medica was used extensively by doctors for the following 1,500 years.

Many Roman doctors came from Greece and strongly believed in achieving the right balance of the four humors and restoring the natural heat of patients.

Galen said that opposites would often cure patients. For a cold he would give the patient hot pepper. If a patient had a fever, he advised doctors to use cucumber.

The Romans believed in public health

Public health is all about maintaining the whole community in good health, and today involves preventing the spread of disease, vaccination programs, promoting healthy lifestyles and good eating habits, building hospitals, providing clean water for people to drink and wash themselves, etc. The Romans, unlike the Greeks and Egyptians, were strong believers in public health. They knew that hygiene was vital to prevent the spread of diseases.

They promoted facilities for personal hygiene in a big way by building public baths, toilets and sewage systems. Although their focus was on maintaining a motivated and healthy army, their citizens also benefited.

Public baths – there were nine public baths in Rome alone. Each one had pools of varying temperatures. Some of them had gyms and massage rooms. Government inspectors enforced high hygiene standards vigorously.

Hospitals – hospitals started in Ancient Rome. The first ones were built to treat soldiers and veterans.

The Romans were superb engineers and built several aqueducts to supply people with water.

They were careful to place army barracks well away from swamps. If marshes got in the way, they would drain them. The Romans were aware of the link between swamps and mosquitoes and the diseases they could transmit to humans.


What Is Prehistoric Medicine?

Prehistoric medicine refers to medicine before humans were are to read and write. It covers a vast period, which varies according to regions and cultures. Anthropologists, people who study the history of humanity, can only make calculated guesses at what prehistoric medicine was like by collecting and studying human remains and artifacts. They have sometimes extrapolated from observations of certain indigenous populations today and over the last hundred years whose lives have been isolated from other cultures.

People in prehistoric times would have believed in a combination of natural and supernatural causes and treatments for conditions and diseases. The practice of comparing a placebo effect with a given therapy did not exist. There may have been some trial and error in coming to some effective treatments, but they would not have taken into account several variables scientists factor in today, such as coincidence, lifestyle, family history, and the placebo effect.

Nobody can be absolutely certain what prehistoric peoples knew about how the human body works. However, we can make some calculated guesses, based on some limited evidence. There is evidence from their burial practices that they knew something about bone structure. Bones have been found that were stripped of the flesh, bleached and piled according to what part of the body they came from.

There is also archeological evidence of cannibalism among some of the prehistoric communities – so, they must have known about our inner organs and where lean tissue or fat predominates in the human body. Most likely, they believed that their lives were determined by spirits. Aboriginals peoples around the world today often correlate illness with losing one’s soul.

The aboriginals in Australia were described by colonists as being able to stitch up wounds, and encased broken bones in mud to set them right. Medical historians believe these skills probably existed during prehistory. However, most evidence found in prehistoric graves shows healthy but badly set bones, indicating that they did not know how to set broken bones.

There was no concept of public health in prehistoric times

Homo habilis-2
Homo Habilis, who lived about 2.33 to
1.4 million years ago, probably the first
prehistoric humans to use tools. They were
hunter-gatherers and most likely suffered
many cuts and skin wounds

Public health focuses on preventing the spread of disease, good hygiene practices, the provision of water so that people can keep themselves, their animals and their homes clean. Medical historians are fairly sure that prehistoric peoples had no concept of public health. They tended to move around a lot and not remain in one place for long, therefore, there would have been no need or thought towards building public health infrastructure.

During pre-history, people were afflicted with ailments and diseases, just like we are today. However, because of very different lifestyles and lifespans, they did not suffer from the same diseases so commonly.

Below are some diseases and conditions which were probably very common in prehistoric times:

  • Osteoarthritis – many people had to lift and carry large and heavy object frequently. According to archeological remains, osteoarthritis was common.
  • Micro-fractures of the spine and spondylolysis – large rocks were commonly dragged over long distances.
  • Hyper-extension and torque of the lower back – caused by the transport and raising of massive rocks and stones, such as Latte Stones.
  • Infections and complications – people were hunter gatherers and were much more likely to suffer cuts, bruises and bone fractures. There were no modern antibiotics, vaccines, antiseptics, and most likely no knowledge of bacteria, viruses, funguses and other harmful pathogens and the impact of good hygiene practices in preventing infection complications. Infections were much more likely to become serious and life-threatening, while contagious diseases used to spread rapidly and turn into epidemics easily.
  • Rickets – anthropologists have evidence that rickets was widespread throughout most prehistoric communities, probably due to low vitamin D levels.
  • Life expectancy – this ranged from about 25 to 40 years, depending on regions and per-historic periods. People would have been much more susceptible to the ravages of nature, such as a decade-long cold period (or longer), droughts, floods, and diseases which killed off large numbers of their food sources. Men lived longer than women, probably because males were the hunters; they would have had access to their kills before the women, and possibly suffered less from malnutrition.

What medications did prehistoric people use?

Prehistoric people did use medicinal herbs, say anthropologists. Although we have some limited evidence of herbs and substances derived from natural sources used as medicines, it is very hard to be sure what the full range might have been, because plants rot rapidly.

Anthropologists have had to go with what little evidence they may have gathered from the past, plus observing indigenous peoples today and over the last couple of centuries. We can be sure that any medicinal herb or plant would have been a local one – there was hardly any trade going on, and definitely no long-distant commerce. Nomadic tribes may have had access to a wider range of materials.

There is some evidence from present-day archeological sites in Iraq that mallow and yarrow were used about 60,000 years ago:

  • Yarrow ( Achillea millefolium) is said to be an astringent (causes contraction of tissues, helps reduce bleeding), stimulant, diaphoretic (promotes sweating), and a mild aromatic. It was probably used for wounds, cuts and abrasions.
  • Mallow – may have been prepared as a herbal infusion for its colon cleansing properties.
  • Rosemary – there is evidence in several parts of the world that it was used as a medicinal herb. It is claimed to have so many different medicinal qualities, depending on which part of the world one is in, that it is difficult to be sure what it was used for.
  • Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus), a plant common in the European Alps, may have been used as a laxative. Archeologists found traces of this plant in a mummified man. Botanists say the plant can induce diarrhea when ingested.

Women would have gathered and administered herbal remedies, and were in charge of treating sickness and keeping their families healthy. As people did not read or write in those days, knowledge of the benefits and harms of various medications would have been passed down by word of mouth.

Geophagy and Trepanning were probably practiced by prehistoric peoples

Geophagy refers to eating soil-like or earthy substances, such as chalk and clay. Animals and humans have done this for hundreds of thousands of years. In Western and industrialized societies geophagy is related to pica, an eating disorder.

Prehistoric humans probably had their first medicinal experiences through eating earths and clays. They may have copied animals, observing how some clays, when ingested, may have had healing qualities. Some clays are useful for treating wounds. Several aboriginal peoples worldwide use clay externally and internally for the treatment of cuts and wounds.

Trepanning – drilling a hole into the human skull for the treatment of health problems. There is evidence that since Neolithic times, humans have been boring holes into people’s heads in an attempt to cure diseases or free the victim of demons and evil spirits.

Monte Albán - Trepanierter Schädel 1

A Human skull with trepanations at Monte Albán – Museo del Sitio (Del Sitio Museum)

According to cave paintings, anthropologists believe that they were used in an attempt to cure people of mental disorders, migraines and epileptic seizures. The extracted bone may have been kept by the patient as a good-luck charm.

There is also evidence that trepanning was used in prehistorical times to treat fractured skulls.

The Medicine man or Shaman

Medicine men, also known as witch-doctors or shamans existed in some prehistoric communities. They were in charge of their tribe’s health and gathered plant based medications, mainly herbs and roots, carried out rudimentary surgical procedures, as well as casting spells and charms. Tribespeople would also seek them out for medical advice.


What Is Ancient Egyptian Medicine?

Ancient Egypt (3300BC to 525BC) is where we first see the dawn of what, today, we call “medical care”. The Egyptian civilization was the first great civilization on this planet. Egyptians thought gods, demons and spirits played a key role in causing diseases. Many doctors at the time believed that spirits blocked channels in the body, and affected the way the body functioned.

Their research involved trying to find ways to unblock the “Channels”. Gradually, through a process of trial and error and some basic science, the profession of a “doctor of medicine” emerged. Ancient Egyptian doctors used a combination of natural remedies, combined with prayer.

Unlike prehistoric peoples, ancient Egyptians were able to document their research and knowledge, they could read and write; they also had a system of mathematics which helped scientists make calculations. Documented ancient Egyptian medical literature is among the oldest in existence today.

The ancient Egyptians had an agricultural economy, organized and structured government, social conventions and properly enforced laws. Their society was stable; many people lived their whole lives in the same place, unlike most of their prehistoric predecessors. This stability allowed medical research to develop. In this society, individuals were relatively wealthy, compared to their ancestors, and could afford health care.

They had temples, priests and rituals in which deceased people were mummified. In order to mummify you have to learn something about how the human body works. In one mummification process, a long hooked implement was inserted through the nostril, breaking the thin bone of the brain case, allowing the brain to be removed. A significant number of priests became medical doctors.

Ancient Egyptian doctors knew that the body had a pulse, and that it was associated with the function of the heart. They had a very basic knowledge of a cardiac system, but overlooked the phenomenon of blood circulating around the body – either because they missed it, or thought it did not matter, they were unable to distinguish blood vessels, nerves, or tendons.

The ancient Egyptians were traders, and travelled long distances, coming back with herbs and spices from faraway lands. Their relatively high standard of living gave them free time, which they could use for observing things and thinking about them. Medical research involves patience and observation.

The Channel Theory and how the Gods impacted on human health

The Channel Theory – this came by observing farmers who dug out irrigations channels for their crops. They believed that as in irrigation, channels provided the body with routes for good health. If the channels became blocked, they would use laxatives to unblock them.

They thought the heart was the center of 46 channels – types of tubes. To a certain extent, they were right, our veins, arteries, and even our intestines are types of tubes. However, they never came to realize that these channels had different functions.

The Gods were the creators and controllers of life, the Egyptians thought. They believed conception was done by the god Thoth, while Bes, another god, decided whether childbirth went smoothly. Blockages in the human “channels” were thought to be the result of the evil doings of Wehedu, an evil spirit.

The channel theory allowed medicine to move from entirely spiritual cures for diseases and disorders, towards practical ones. Many medical historians say this change was a major turning point, a breakthrough in the history of medicine.

Doctors gave “good” and “bizarre” medical advice

Some recommendations made by physicians were fairly sound – they advised people to wash and shave their bodies as measures to prevent infections. They told people to eat carefully, and to avoid unclean animals and raw fish.

Some of their practices were bizarre, however, and most likely did more harm than good. Several medical prescriptions contained animal dung, which might have useful molds and fermentation substances, but were also infested with bacteria and must have caused many serious infections.

Ancient Egyptian medicine was highly advanced for its time

Egyptian doctors were sought after by kings and queens from faraway lands because they were considered as the best in the world.

Archeologists have found Papyri (thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant) where Egyptians had documented a vast amount of medical knowledge. They found that they had fairly good knowledge about bone structure, and were aware of some of the functions of the brain and liver.

The Ebers Papyrus (Papyrus Ebers)

These are medical documents which are thought to have been written around 1500 BC, and most likely include retranscribed materials dating back to 3400 BC. It is a 20-meter long scroll, which covers the equivalent of approximately 100 pages. The Ebers Papyrus, along with the Edwin Smith Papyrus, are the oldest preserved medical documents in existence.

Papyrus Ebers
The Ebers Papyrus explaining the best
treatment for asthma

Georg Moritz Ebers (1837-1898), a German novelist and Egyptologist, discovered this medical papyrus at Thebes (Luxor) in 1873-74. It is now in the Library of the University of Leipzig, Germany.

The Ebers Papyrus was has over 700 remedies and magical formulae, as well as scores of incantations aimed at repelling demons which cause disease. However, it also has evidence of sound scientific procedures.

The authors wrote that the center of the body’s blood supply is the heart, and that every corner of the body is attached to vessels. The functions of some organs appear to have been overlooked, while the heart was the meeting point for vessels which carried tears, urine, semen and blood.

The Book of Hearts, a section of the Ebers Papyrus, described in great detail the characteristics, causes, and treatment for such mental disorders as dementia and depression. It appears they viewed mental diseases as a combination of blocked channels and the influence of evil spirits and angry Gods.

There is even a section on family planning, contraception, how to tell if you are pregnant, and some other gynecological issues. They wrote about skin problems, dental problems, diseases related to the eyes, intestinal disease, parasites, and how to surgically treat an abscess or a tumor. The ancient Egyptians clearly knew how to set broken bones and treat burns.

Below are some quotes from the Ebers Papyrus (adapted into familiar modern day phrases:

  • From the heart there are vessels to all four limbs, to every part of the body. When a doctor, Sekmet priest or exorcist place their hands on any part of a person’s body, they are examining the heart, because all vessels come from the heart. The heart is the source, and speaks out to every part of the body.
  • When we breathe in through our noses, the air enters our hearts and lungs, and then the entire belly.
  • The nostrils have four vessels. Two of them provide mucus while the other two provide blood.
  • The human body has four vessels which lead to two ears. Into the right ear enters the “breath of life”, while into the left ear the “breath of death” enters.
  • Baldness is caused by four vessels to the head.
  • All eye diseases originate from four vessels in the forehead which provide the eyes with blood.
  • Two vessels enter a man’s testicles and provide them with semen.
  • The buttocks have two vessels which supply them with vital nutrients.
  • Six vessels reach the soles of our feet.
  • Six vessels lead to our fingers, through our arms.
  • The bladder is connected to two vessels. They supply it with urine.
  • The liver is supplied with liquid and air via four vessels. When they overfill the liver with blood, they cause many diseases.
  • The lungs and spleen are connected to four vessels, which like the liver, are supplied with liquid and air.
  • The liquid and air that come out of the anus come from four vessels. The anus is also exposed to all the vessels that exist in the arms and legs when they are overflowing with waste.

Egyptian doctors were adept at some basic surgical procedures

Egyptian physicians were trained and good at practical first aid. They could successfully fix broken bones and dislocated joints.

Basic surgery, meaning procedures close to the surface of the skin (or on the skin) was a common and well learnt skill. They knew how to stitch wounds effectively. They did not, however, perform surgery deep inside the body. They had no effective anesthetics, only antiseptics. Performing surgery deep inside a human body would have been impossible.

They had excellent bandages, and would bind certain plant products, such as willow leaves, into the bandages for the treatment of inflammation.

Circumcision of baby boys was common practice. It is hard to tell whether female circumcision existed; there is one mention, but several experts believe the text has not been translated properly.

Egyptian doctors said there were three types of injuries:

  • Treatable injuries – these were dealt with immediately.
  • Contestable injuries – these were deemed not to be life-threatening, i.e. the doctor believed the patient could survive without his intervention. Patients would be put under observation. If they survived, the doctor would decide in his own time whether to intervene.
  • Untreatable ailments – the meaning is clear; the doctor would not intervene.
Ancient Egyptian medical instruments
Ancient Egyptian inscriptions illustrating bone
saws, scales, lances, dental tools, suction
cups, knives and scalpels

Surgeons had an array of instruments, such as pincers, forceps, spoons, saws, containers with burning incense, hooks and knives.

Prosthetics did exist, but archeologists say they were probably not that practical and were used either to make deceased people look more presentable during funerals, or were simply for decorative purposes.

Ancient Egyptian public health

The aim of public health is to protect the community from the spread of disease, and too keep everybody as healthy as possible. The provision of water so that people can wash themselves, their animals and their homes is a vital part of preventing the spread of disease. Cleanliness was an important part of Egyptian life; however, it was promoted for social and religious reasons, and not health ones.

Their homes had rudimentary baths and toilets. Personal cleanliness and appearance were an important part of life; many even wore make-up around their eyes to protect from disease. Most people used mosquito nets during the hot months – we cannot know whether this was to protect against malaria and other diseases, or simply because they did not want to be bitten.

Priests washed themselves and their clothing and eating utensils regularly. But they did it for religious reasons. Although hygiene practices did help protect their health, this was not their reason. Cleanliness was an appeal to their gods.

There was no public health infrastructure as we know of today, with sewage systems, proper medical care and public hygiene.

Magic and religion to treat illnesses

Everyday life in Egypt involved beliefs and fear of magic, gods, demons, evils spirits, etc. Luck and disaster were caused by angry celestial beings or evil forces. They believed that if illnesses and physical and mental disorders were partly caused by supernatural forces, then magic and religion were required to deal with them and treat people.

Anthropologists, archeologists, and medical historians say there did not appear to be a clear difference between a priest and a doctor in those days. Many healers were priests of Sekhmet, and used science as well as magic and incantations when treating people. (Sekhmet was an Egyptian warrior goddess).

The religious and/or magic rituals and procedures probably had a powerful placebo effect, which were likely seen as proof of their effectiveness.

Some treatments used products or herbs or plants that looked similar to the illness they were treating, this is known as simila similibus (similar with similar). This practice has existed all over the world, even in modern alternative medicine (homeopathy, treating like with like). In Egyptian times ostrich eggs were used to treat a fractured skull.

The medical profession had a structure and a hierarchy

The earliest ever record of a physician was Hesy-Ra, 2700 BC, who was “Chief of Dentists and Doctors” to King Dioser.

The first female doctor was probably Peseshet 2400 BC, who was known as the supervisor of all female doctors.

The top doctors worked in the royal court. Below them there were inspectors who would supervise the proper actions of doctors. There were specialists, such as dentists, proctologists, gastroenterologists, and ophthalmologists. A proctologist was called “nery phuyt” which means “shepherd of the anus”.


Ancient Arab Medicine Goes Online



As Egypt hints at an Arabic spring in science, Western museums and institutions are highlighting the rich Arabic roots of science past. I wrote a few weeks ago about a new exhibit on Arabick roots at the Royal Society. Now comes a contribution from the Biblioteca Alexandrina and the  Wellcome Library:

The Wellcome Library is pleased to announce the launch of Wellcome Arabic Manuscripts Online, a digital manuscript library created in partnership with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and King’s College London Department of Digital Humanities.

Arabic medicine was once the most advanced in the world, and now digital facsimiles of some of its most important texts have been made freely available online. The unique online resource, based on the Wellcome Library’s Arabic manuscript collection, includes well-known medical texts by famous practitioners (such as Avicenna, Ibn al-Quff, and Ibn an-Nafis), lesser-known works by anonymous physicians and rare or unique copies, such as Averroes’ commentaries on Avicenna’s medical poetry…

Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library, expressed his enthusiasm for the project: “Providing global access to our collections is at the heart of our mission to foster collaborative research, and we are delighted to see these particular treasures become freely accessible online. We are grateful to the Library of Alexandria and Kings College London, whose partnership in this project has enabled us to extend the availability of these rare materials to the countries of their origin.”

Funded by the JISC and the Wellcome Trust, the Wellcome Arabic Cataloguing Partnership (WAMCP) was initiated in 2009 with the aim to make the Wellcome’s Arabic manuscripts available and to establish a standard in Arabic manuscript cataloguing and display.


Black Cumin Seed Extract – An Ancient Healing Remedy

Black cumin seeds (Nigella sativa) have long been used as a powerful remedy against major illnesses in nearly every major medical tradition…from Ayurveda to Chinese herbalism to ancient Egyptian and Greek medicine.

The earliest written reference to black cumin (also called “blackseed”) is found in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament (28:25-27). Here, the holy prophet Muhammad calls blackseed “a remedy for every illness except death.”

Now, science also confirms that blackseed is one of the most powerful medicinal plants known to cumin seed oil

Several studies have also shown that black cumin seed extract may help fight cancer. In one recent study, black cumin seed oil was potent against pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest and most difficult to treat of all cancers.

In the hundreds of studies conducted on black cumin, the seeds have been shown to contain compounds that fight disease by boosting the body’s production of…

  • Bone marrow
  • Natural interferon
  • Immune cells

And the Sloane Kettering hospital website has recently published exciting details on current anti-cancer research using black cumin seed oil.

Very few botanicals have shown the effectiveness of black cumin against a wide array of diseases and health conditions.

What is Black Cumin?

Black cumin is a member of the buttercup family. When whole, the seeds are dark, thin, and crescent shaped. They contain more than 100 chemical compounds, some of which are still unidentified.

The primary active compound in black cumin seed is crystalline nigellone. Other important active ingredients include:

  • Thymoquinone
  • Beta sitosterol
  • Myristic acid
  • Palmitic acid
  • Palmitoleic acid
  • Stearic acid
  • Oleic acid
  • Linoleic acid
  • Linolenic acid
  • Arachidonic acid
  • Protein
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B2
  • Vitamin B3
  • Folic acid
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorous

Black Cumin Boosts Immunity and Health

Like the well-known herb Echinacea, black cumin is a powerful immune booster. But black cumin works very differently than Echinacea. Unlike Echinacea, black cumin does not negatively impact autoimmune disorders, and therefore can be used by those who suffer these conditions.

Black cumin is effective against allergies…multiple sclerosis…cancer…tuberculosis…and AIDS. Black cumin is also effective against liver problems, digestive imbalances, and asthma.

Black Cumin in History

  • Oil of black cumin was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, and was used by Cleopatra for its valuable health and beauty benefits.
  • Hippocrates, the grandfather of modern medicine, considered black cumin a valuable remedy for digestive disorders.
  • Ibn Sina, the author of the famous Canon of Medicine, reports that black cumin stimulates the metabolism and supports recovery from dispiritedness and lethargy.
  • Ayurvedic medicine uses black cumin for a wide variety of diseases, including hemorrhoids, hepatitis, fever, diarrhea, cough, and tapeworm.

Modern Scientific Research on Black Cumin

Since 1959, black cumin has been examined in more than 200 different studies at universities and laboratories.

Research conducted at the Cancer Research Laboratory of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina showed that oil of black cumin fought cancerous tumors without the negative side effects chemotherapy.

The Hilton Head research showed that black cumin…

  • Increased the growth rate of bone marrow cells by a staggering 250%
  • Inhibited tumor growth by 50%
  • Stimulated immune cells and raised the interferon production (which protects cells from the destructive effect of viruses)
  • Has strongly antibacterial effects
  • Lowers the blood sugar level (essential for the treatment of diabetes)

In animal studies, two-thirds of mice given black cumin seed oil survived beyond 30 days despite deliberate efforts to induce cancer…while none of the mice in the control group survived.

Black cumin is especially effective for aggressive cancers whose growth depends on angiogenesis (the physiological process involving the growth of new blood vessels).

Dramatic Results for Asthma and Allergies…and Many Other Conditions

German research has shown that 70% of patients with allergic conditions—including pollen and dust allergies—benefit from treatment with black cumin seed oil. Long-term use (6 months or longer) often brings outstanding results.

Other uses of black cumin seed oil include for…

  • Acne
  • Colds and flu
  • Lethargy
  • Nervous tension
  • Tired legs muscles
  • Backache, arthritis, bruises, and rheumatism
  • High blood pressure
  • Stomach problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Colic (babies)
  • Sinusitis
  • Skin fungus

Exceptional Health and Beauty Benefits with Internal and External Use

Experts often recommend taking one teaspoon of the herb alone or with hot tea one hour before meals once or twice daily.

Black cumin seed not only supports health, but has beauty benefits as well, including stronger and more lustrous hair and fingernails after months of use. When used externally, black cumin seed can soothe psoriasis, eczema, and acne.

Black cumin seed is sometimes included in pre-made creams, or you can add it to your own favorite cream. Some people use black cumin seed oil preparations on burns or skin infections. It can also be used to moisturize the skin, relieve joint or pain, or to minimize wrinkles and other signs of aging.

Black cumin seed can be found in many Indian and Lebanese food shops and online. According to Tony Isaacs, natural health researcher and author of Cancer’s Natural Enemy, consumers should shop carefully. Isaacs warns that, “Those who use black cumin seed should check labels and product information carefully.

Black cumin is commonly referred to as black cumin seed, black onion seed, black caraway, and black sesame seed, and other names, but only Nigella sativa is true black cumin.