Back in the day, many cultures believed the earth to be flat – although contrary to popular belief, the peers of explorer Christopher Columbus were not among them.
But because the naked eye can only see the horizon when we look off into the distance, it stood to reason that for those early people, the horizon, in fact, signaled the end, much like the contained world of Truman Burbank in “The Truman Show.”
Eventually, Greek astronomer Eratosthenes of Cyrene experimented with sunlight and shadow to not only determine that the earth was actually curved, but also come close to determining its circumference. And so, the myth of the earth as pancake-flat was little more than a footnote in history books.
That’s the thing about beliefs. Sometimes even the things we believe very strongly to be true have the potential to become as pliable as putty and change as new information causes us to revisit and rethink what we thought we knew.
Time, it seems – along with the lessons we learn - has the potential to change almost anything.
When children are young, they believe what they are told, as they have not yet mastered the little white lies – first told to make the world a more magical place for kids, such as Santa Claus popping down the chimney with toys – then later used as an essential part of politics and promotional campaigns.
As they learn more about the world around them, kids no longer approach situations with blind trust, but instead tend to ask questions so that they can be as informed as possible before making a decision or structuring a set of beliefs.
Those early lessons of continually questioning convention should be ones we carry with us throughout our lives, especially so when it comes to our health and well-being. Blind trust should end in childhood.
In Ancient Egypt, as the formulas were learned for making mortar, glass and other treasured substances, greed quickly took over. Soon enough, their desires turned to discovering the secrets to turn base metals into gold, one of the most precious – and limited – substances in the world.
One imagines scientists rubbing their hands together in the hopes of creating something so precious from mere metal.
Though hard as they tried, those early alchemists were ultimately unable to create gold, though modern-day hopefuls – including groups such as the freemasons – continue to express interest in unlocking the secrets of alchemy.
It’s no wonder that man has longed for more gold. In medieval times gold was believed to offer health benefits; people believed that being so rare and lovely, gold must provide healing power.
Those beliefs continue today, as gold salts are used as anti-inflammatories and in the treatment of arthritis and other joint-related disorders. Gold is also being studied for use in the treatment of HIV/AIDS and cancer.
Few of us, though, still believe that metal – no matter the process – can be transformed into gold.
The Four Humors: Not so funny
Inspired by the use of bloodletting as a treatment for all sorts of ills, contemporary medicine continues to use leeches, mainly to help prevent blood clots after reconstructive surgery in areas where there are a lot of blood vessels, especially the face or the extremities.
The water-dwelling creatures are especially useful because when too much blood is present, delicate tissues can die, drowned in their own fluids due to oxygen deprivation.
Ancient Greek and Roman physicians also used leeches, but their processes were very different.
During that era of medicine, it was believed the body was governed by four bodily fluids – also known as humors – and any illnesses patients experienced were a result of those fluid levels not being in balance and harmony.
The four fluids - blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm – also were associated with one of the four earth signs. Blood was air, yellow bile was fire, black bile was earth and phlegm was water.
Those with too much blood were sanguine, as reflected by their cheerful disposition and ruddy, red complexions. Those with too much black bile were suffering from melancholy, while those with too much yellow bile were choleric, or easily angered, and those with too much phlegm were phlegmatic, or calm, composed and not easily excited.
The idea shows up in the Shakespeare play “The Taming of the Shrew,” when the character Petruchio pretends to be choleric as a way to show Katherina what it was like to spend time with such a difficult person, and soundly berates the servants for serving a meal of mutton, believed to be a choleric food, to people who were already in a choleric – or disagreeable – state of mind.
For more than 2,000 years, bloodletting was used as a treatment for a wide range of ailments, as a way to echo the positive effects believed to be the result of menstruation, which Hippocrates saw as a function that purged women of “bad humors.”
Everything from acne, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, tuberculosis, mental illness and gangrene were treated with bloodletting, while induced vomiting and purges were used to restore proper balances.
Of course, we still look to this old ways of thinking for some contemporary ideas – especially so the idea of balance and harmony for good health - but new research has generated new ways of thinking, and now not much remain of the four humors aside from the language. (As well as the leeches.)
Florence and the disease
Florence Nightingale – who wrote “Notes on Nursing” in 1859 – recognized that cleanliness was important to stop the spread of disease.
She realized that toxins were often expressed through the skin, and because of this, skin and clothes needed to be cleaned regularly in order to remove the toxins and prevent them from being reabsorbed into the body.
She described the process in detailed steps – hot water, a towel to act as an exfoliant – and her advice is still an essential part of medicine today.
The rest of us, however, have taken the concept to the extreme, and now use antibacterial soaps in virtually all settings.
And for all the good we think we’re doing, the act of sanitizing everything has had a seriously negative impact on our health.
Exposure to some bacteria is beneficial, especially in childhood, as we build our immune systems and create buffers against illness through mild exposure to germs.
In order to be strong enough to fight off bacteria, we can’t be insulated from them, and used incessantly, antibacterials do just that.
And as it turns out, the microbes that these antibacterials are trying to kill don’t always succumb to the powerful agents, and instead, they change and mutate. Because of these changes, after surviving a round with an antibacterial, they’re like a prize fighter on a winning streak, essentially stronger than ever.
The more we use antibacterials – and use them we do, spending several billion dollars worldwide on the products – the stronger those bacteria may become.
So what’s happening?
Most of the antibacterials on the market contain Triclosan, which works by inhibiting the production of fatty acids required for bacterial cells to survive. When we initially use an antibacterial, we may effectively kill off a number of bacteria. But the antibacterial residue often sticks around, providing a setting where bacteria respond in much the same way as we might to an immunization, essentially learning to co-habitate with a killer, while mutating into a stronger strain that is resistant to the chemical.
The big problem is that many antibacterials are designed to work in the same way antibiotics to, so as bacteria develop resistance to one, they are also developing a resistance to the other. That means at some point, we may run out of antibiotics to treat certain infections.
As it stands now, some strong strains such as MRSA are virtually impossible to treat, and are spread quickly in both hospital and home settings, putting everyone at risk.
Better than antibiotics
Better, then, is to keep those infections at bay with a bolstered immune system that requires no assistance from antibiotics and antibacterials that also often kill off the good guys as well, like so much collateral damage in wartime.
Eat a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, and follow Florence Nightingale’s advice to wash your hands often. Bacteria are most often spread when we touch our hands to our eyes and noses, which we do all day long, usually without even knowing it.
- Get enough sleep. When you’re short on ZZZZs, you make your immune system work harder, thanks to elevated levels of stress hormones. When you rest, everything has a chance to recover from the day and be restored.
- Exercise. Rather than taxing your body and making you more prone to illness, exercise makes everything strong, including your immune system.
- Erase bad bacteria from your digestive tract. By cleansing (such as with our Kiwi-Klenz) away toxins and creating an environment where good bacteria thrive, you’ll be better able to fight off infections – and will be less likely to get sick.