One of the arguments that supporters of “Complementary and Alternative Medicine” (CAM) use is the argument from antiquity. This is the argument that 2,000 years of history can’t be wrong. Well, yes they can be wrong. The following of a practice for any period of time, without properly evaluating the safety and efficacy is foolishness. The basis of modern Science or Evidence based medicine the constant evaluation and re-evaluation of practices.
One of the examples is the use of mercury as a treatment for just about everything as was common 6 or 7 hundred years ago. A recent examination of 500 year old hair and teeth from a King and Queen show the effects of mercury poisoning.
The subjects: Ferdinand II (1452-1516) and Isabella (1470-1524) of Aragon, a medieval kingdom of what is now modern Spain.
Ferdinand was once the king of Aragon, Sicily, Naples, Valencia, Sardinia, and Navarre. His death followed a spat with recurrent fever, malaise, fatigue, and bloody diarrhea.
Isabella, the Princess of Naples and Duchess of Milan is thought by some to be the subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. She suffered from recurrent fevers, malaise, and died with dropsy, a general swelling of the body.
There’s a common link between the Aragonese’s late lives: both were treated with mercury, a cure-all skin disease remedy of the 15th century used to care for everything from itch to ulcers. It’s also a neurotoxin that’s especially harmful to the nervous system.
Historical accounts suggest that Ferdinand was using the heavy metal to treat syphilis. And based on Isabella’s blackened teeth, researchers can tell that she also received mercury treatment.
Researchers from rom the University of Chicago, University of Turin, University of Pisa, University of New Mexico, Academic Teaching Hospital München-Bogenhausen, and the New Mexico Health Enhancement and Marathon Clinics Research Foundation examined the hair and presented their results the 7th World Congress on Mummy Studies in San Diego.
In the 15 days leading to Ferdinand’s death, sky-high levels of mercury were present in his hair, ranging from 50-20,000 ppm. For comparison, the World Health Organization (WHO) places the level at which toxicity occurs at 50 ppm of mercury in hair. With a safety factor of 10 applied.
Examination of other tissues were positive for
visceral leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease spread by sand flies that can cause skin ulcers in immune-suppressed subjects and, when left untreated, potentially fatal damage to many organs.
The researchers concluded that the potential skin lesions, often associated with leishmaniasis, were treated with large amounts of mercury. This could have led to mercury intoxication, which weakens the immune system. Although the exact role of mercury’s toxicity in the early deaths of the royals remains to be determined, an overdose of the metal could have opened a door for latent infections, such as leishmaniasis, to turn deadly.
In other words, if the mercury doesn’t get you, the decrease in your body’s ability to fight other infections will allow something else to finish you off.
Mercury continued to be used as a treatment for various ailments for many years. For example, Louisa May Alcott received mercury treatment for typhoid 20 years before the stroke that finally killed her. Researchers believe that this treatment was responsible for the multi-system disease she suffered from.
Syphilis was treated with mercury until after the discovery of penicillin in 1928. Some of the symptoms of late term syphilis such as bone lesions and neurological disorders may actually be symptoms of long term mercury poisoning.
Quicksilver is the archaic name for elemental mercury and as it was used by so many pseudophysicians as a cure for so many ailments, that the variation of the word developed into our common language as ‘quack’.
Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homoeopathy, association between mercury and syphilis as the basis for his imaginary ‘like cures like’ hypothesis. Hahnemann’s Soluble Mercury is manufactured today by Boiron Laboratories the multi-national corporation that is the largest manufacturer of homoeopathic products in the world. At least this highly diluted product can have no effects on the human body.
The use of mercury as a naturally occurring treatment for so many ailments for centuries says absolutely nothing about either it’s safety or efficacy. It is a perfect example of why the argument from antiquity can not be considered a valid form of argument, and the claims of the products and practices of CAM have been examined under a modern microscope. There they have all shown little or no efficacy despite their centuries or millennia of use. But the quacks still won’t quit.