THIS was said by Hippocrates some two thousand years ago and during the very recent past it would appear as though this truth were showing signs of coming into its own again, but how far it still is from general acceptance is evidenced by by fortunes being made by the pill and potion manufactures and by the hundreds and thousands of chemists shops and drug stores which flourish throughout the civilised world.
The amount of reliable history in existence is very small and though the world, as we know it, has been inhabited for more than a half-million years we cannot count on authentic history previous to the last few thousand, and there are large gaps even in that.
If we take the Old Testament as the beginning of authentic history (though much of that is allegorical) we find the earliest form of religion was mainly a series of hygienic laws, many of which are as sound today as when they were first laid down.
In olden times the priests were the physicians and the simple laws of health which they laid down soon became smothered in superstition. Diseases were said to be punishments sent by God and the only treatments were either peace offerings or thank offerings, both in the early days being paid in the first type of currency-food-and later on in money as well as in food. The depths of superstition became very great, and as the wheel of time revolved we came again, in the days of Hippocrates, to the recognition of the fundamental principles of prevention and Nature cure.
The wonderful healing power of the sun was also recognised and Hippocrates established Solaria where people came to be cured. At this period we find that a good medical officer of health, whose duty was the prevention of disease, was paid about ten times as much as an ambassador.
After this period of enlightment we find, with the turning of the wheel, the sound knowledge of the laws of health becoming more and more covered with layer after layer of superstition and, with the priests as physicians, there came a return to the idea that diseases in individuals was a punishment from God and the main cure to be found in penances which took the form of money payments or grants of land to the Church, and varying forms of physical self-punishment.
A certain amount of surgery was practised, such as cutting for stone in the bladder, but medical treatment was quite negligible.
The priests during this era made so much money by going to the bedsides of the sick and in the practice of surgery that they became neglectful of their spiritual duties and finally, in 1123, they were forbidden by decree to go to the sick except for religious purposes, and the Lateran Council in 1139 threatened those priests and monks who followed the practice of Medicine with severe penalties and even suspension, while Pope Innocent III in 1225 went so far as to refuse benediction to all who practised surgery.
As, however, the practice of medicine and surgery was still carried on by the priests a decree was passed in the late thirteenth century allowing those priests who wished to practice surgery to marry and this marked the dividing line between the priest and the surgeon, since which time the professional physician or surgeon has been a layman.
The doctors of medicine, however, did not abandon the old superstitions for much the same methods were pursued, except that the penances imposed by the priests seem to have been replaced by nauseous mixtures and weird regimes. The value of sunlight was forgotten, and patients suffering from tubercular glands and joints were shut up in dark rooms from which every breath of air was excluded and they were brought out from time to time to be cured by the Kings touch.
No serious attempts at medical cure were made and, up to a few hundred years ago, poor women who collected herbs and made potions were treated as witches and burnt at the stake.
The more or less complete ignorance of bacteria made many diseases seem so mysterious as to their origin that when epidemics broke out the people became panic stricken like frightened sheep, and drugs were administered on what we call the “shot-gun” principle which meant that prescriptions compounded of innumerable drugs were given in the hope that one would hit and no doubt many poor people died of their treatments much sooner than they would of their disease had it been left untreated.
Some forty years ago the rules for dealing with an outbreak of cholera in a cantonment in India included “the troops to march at right angles to the wind and wood fires to be made between them and the wind so as to destroy the miasma.” We know today that the checking of a cholera epidemic is simple to a degree, it only requires the securing of a pure water supply or, where this is not possible, of treating the impure water with chlorine or by boiling so as to destroy the germs.
It seems strange this chlorinating of water should not have been thought of before when we realise the sea is salt and, but for that property, would long ago have been a mass of bacteria. With the discovery of bacteria there came a great wave of drug treatment in the hope that he drugs would, of themselves, destroy the disease germs and an immense amount of harm was done by this form of treatment for the powerful drugs caused damage beyond measure.
We are once again approaching the simple facts known to Hippocrates-that the body itself must affect the cure, and the only way in which drugs can help to cure disease is by stimulating the cells of the body to put up a good fight. Symptoms, of course, are relieved by drugs, but this is quite a different thing from cure.
Even in that well-known disease, malaria, the small doses of quinine suitable given act by stimulating the body to bring about its own cure.