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Leeches, mercury and quackery

One of the more absurd treatments of old was blood letting. Barbers were once honorary surgeons, because of their skill with a razor and releasing blood. Did you know about the snobbery of English surgeons, who still like to be called “Mister”, instead of doctor, in honor of this old tradition? Even women surgeons of today, in Britain, are called “Mister” (and not “Madam).

It’s hard to see how blood letting ever came about. We can draw parallels, however, with other more primitive and ridiculous allopathic treatments of today. Many will also be seen in the future as just plain barbarous and indefensible quackery.

By the way, I don’t say this often and you may not have heard me remark that the word “quack” is actually a derisory term for a treatment that ONLY allopathic doctors have ever been guilty of (Quackbusters, take note).

The German word for mercury is quacksilber (our word “quicksilver”). It was used in olden times as a highly toxic treatment for a variety of conditions. A “quack” was somebody who used mercury. Only allopathic doctors have ever used this treatment, to my knowledge. So the only “quacks” are allopathic doctors. Betcha didn’t know that!

Right up until the early 20th century, mercury had some use against syphilis, before Salvarsan was developed by Paul Erlich. It has made a very unwelcome appearance in a variety of allopathic medicines since. So-called pink disease (acrodynia) in babies, common through the early part of the twentieth century, was caused by—of all the insane things—mercury (as calomel) in babies’ teething powders! I mean…

So, that’s a digression about the origin of the word “quack”. No alternative healers, to my knowledge, have ever been “quacks”. Ha!

Right, back to blood letting. Leeches were one of the most repulsive treatments of former times. Leeches were applied to suck out the patients’ blood. The anti-coagulant hirudin, which the creature injected into the bite, was the source of further bleeding.

Most of you know I lived for a time in Sri Lanka and there worked with the late Pandit Prof. Dr. Sir Anton Jayasuriya. In my tenure as professor of nutrition, I watched him use leeches as an acupuncture stimulant. Well, I had to admit it was less crude and invasive than needles. It was, after all, Nature. My wife and I got sucked on by leeches in the mountains, so I can assure you they are very much “in Nature”!

The truth is, leeches have got a pretty bad rap. They were the real poster girl of stupid, dangerous medical follies. They showed up in Hollywood movies as the real “bad guys”.

So would you be surprised to know that leeches are back and have been used in the USA, by modern surgeons, right now as I write this? I bet you would.


Well, take a look at this video from the PBS program “Nova”. You’ll be surprised at this very modern application of leeching. The patient was also delighted, as you will see.

The post Leeches, mercury and quackery appeared first on Dr. Keith Scott-Mumby.

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