Weird History 12 Ancient Health Practices that Killed People Quicker Than Just Doing Nothing  

David Sharp
84.2k views 12 items

The history of the medical profession is a history of trials and errors - emphasis on the errors. As doctors, researchers, and barbers have searched for cures for various maladies, they've tried some very strange ancient health practices in the name of science, with many of these "cures" leading to a host of health problems of their own.

The reason the Hippocratic Oath exists is, in part, to help protect patients from overzealous doctors who think that their wildly experimental "cure" is the best treatment, regardless of how bad it may be for the patient. But before the words of Hippocrates were widely known, some things ancient people did for their health definitely violated ethical standards, to say the least.

Looking over this list of cruel, misguided, and just plain absurd ancient health customs does make you wonder what procedures we use today that future generations will be totally horrified by... but at least we're not shoving crocodile dung inside of us, right?


Leeching/Bleeding is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 12 Ancient Health Practices that Killed People Quicker Than Just Doing Nothing
Photo:  Guillaume van den Bossche/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Some ancient doctors subscribed to the theory that the body is governed by four "bodily humours:" black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. When a person fell ill, they believed that this was due to an imbalance of the humours, which could often be corrected by simply getting rid of some of that pesky blood. Leeches were frequently the instrument of choice for this "operation" due to their natural blood-sucking tendencies. However, many surgeons would just cut open a vein and let out a pint or two.

Bloodletting was prescribed by doctors in ancient Greece, Egypt, and Europe (even into the 19th century) for everything from fever, infection, acne, headaches, diabetes, epilepsy, and more. While giving blood can have some health benefits (especially in men at risk of heart attack), most doctors agree that your blood is more effective inside your body rather than out - though modern doctors have successfully used leeches to aid in difficult reattachment surgeries.

Animal Dung

Animal Dung is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 12 Ancient Health Practices that Killed People Quicker Than Just Doing Nothing
Photo: Jerome Bon/Wikimedia Commons

A number of ancient cultures have used animal dung of all sorts to treat a wide variety of illnesses. The ancient Egyptians would rub it on wounds - and in their eyes - and even use it as a contraceptive. Crocodile dung was formed into a kind of proto-diaphragm that, not surprisingly, was not only ineffective at preventing pregnancy (actually, it may have increased the odds of conception) it also came with its own set of health complications. Turns out, putting poop inside your body can lead to infections. Huh. 

While fecal transplants are a totally legitimate form of medical treatment, that procedure is a long way away from the practice of using pig dung to stop a nosebleed like the ancient Scots.


Trepanning is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 12 Ancient Health Practices that Killed People Quicker Than Just Doing Nothing
Photo: Hieronymous Bosch/Public Domain/via Wikimedia Commons

"Trepanning" is the medical name for "drilling a hole in your head." While archeologists, anthropologists, and medical professionals are confused as to why people thought this was a good idea, there is a long history of boring into peoples skulls as a treatment for epilepsy, mental disorders, and paradoxically, to relieve headaches. Skulls have been found with holes in them across Europe, Africa, and the Americas - some even showing bone growth, which points to patients actually surviving this brutal treatment. 

While trepanning is still occasionally practiced today, most doctors agree that its best usage is not the release of evil spirits trapped inside the skull.


Urine is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 12 Ancient Health Practices that Killed People Quicker Than Just Doing Nothing
Photo:  Anonymous/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

If humans have tried using feces for health purposes, one would probably imagine they've tried using urine as well - and one would imagine correctly. Urine has been used by a number of cultures as both a tool for diagnosis and as a treatment for wide spectrum of ailments. Pee has been used as a cleaning agent, as makeup, and no less an authority as Madonna has claimed to use it to cure athlete's foot. The ancient Romans even used it as a tooth whitener, which begs the question: what kind of mouthwash do you use to get the taste of your mouthwash out of your mouth? And yes, Tyler Durden, in some cases it is not necessarily harmful to drink your own pee, but frequently it is - urine can be highly toxic, especially if it isn't your own and it's not fresh. And it's always gross.