When we look at poop, we all think of that disgusting brown thing that we have to get out of our systems from time to time. In modern medicine poop is mostly seen as a diagnostic tool and not as a therapeutic tool. It is mostly just that thing that can give some interesting scientific information about you, but you best stay away from. What if I tell you that that is fast changing in today’s evolving world? Well until recently, poop has had some limited roles in our daily lives such as in making manure and biogas. However, medical interest is going in a new direction. Poop therapy. That’s right, you heard me correctly: “poop therapy”, though it goes by the fancier name of fecal microbiota transplant. The thing is, there is a possibility in the future that whenever you complain of serious digestive issues, the doctor will just take a little poop of a healthy person and literately place it right inside your rectum. We might even be seeing the invention of fecal enemas. The rationale is that we all know that there are some good microbes that help your digestive system function properly. These microbes are normally found abundantly in the poop of healthy people and may be deficient in the poop of sick people. All they have to do is to introduce some of the poop of the healthy man into the rectum of the sick man and you have new healthy bacteria. The potential is numerous. “Poop therapy” could be used for various things from digestive problems caused by the anaerobe clostridium difficile to maybe use after any surgery that requires the intestines to be sterilized and weight loss. While this could potentially be a paradigm shift in modern medicine, it is not new. I think we are just picking some cues and health care tips from ancient medicine in a new way. Let us take a look at some of the ways poop has been used by our ancestors for healing and therapy.
Let us not move too far yet. In the 17th century, medicine in most of Europe was not standardised and was done by apothecary. Personal recipes were used to treat some diseases and feces appears to be favored by some physicians of that time. The Johanna St. John’s recipe book recommended some “unusual” treatments for some ailments like crab’s eyes, shoe soles and poo. Poo was recommended for the treatment of smallpox. The recipes were known for the addition of various spices such as cinnamon to conceal the unpleasant ingredients (just like we do in modern medicine). However, in this case the poo was recommended pure. This is how the recipe goes: you take some sheep’s poo. You mix a handful of it with a pint of white wine (ewwwe!) you then ferment it for about 8 hours or so (fermented poop!) and then you take a spoonful or two at a time (bon appetite). Now I wonder if those peeps actually died of small pox or poop. If you don’t have smallpox don’t worry, its also good for gout and jaundice. So if you want to try some old school remedies, get your white wine and your sheep poop and bon appetite.
Well that is not all for London’s poop therapy. Let me be your doctor. Are you having cataracts? Are those bloodshot swollen eyes? Are you bothered about the cost of eye drops and those white coats (doctors) who keep bossing you like they know it all? Look no further; I am going to show you an ancient remedy recommended by the eminent sir Robert Boyle. Let’s begin: get some human poo (from your toilet should suffice); dry the poo; crush it into powder; and then ask a friend (or your wife) to blow it into your eyes. Just a disclaimer though, this information is purely for educational purpose and we take no responsibility for any cataract that can get worse as a result of severe infection from your poop powder, and the excessive pain and discomfort you get when powdered poop is blown directly into your eyes. And please, do not try this anywhere (unless you are crazy enough). But if you are still strong-willed and feeling macho after this warning, please go ahead. Don’t just say we didn’t warn you.
Now a little background on these guys. They live by the Nile and get most of their waters from the Nile. Let’s be truthful here guys. Not only the Egyptians, but the whole ancient world was a superstitious place hence it was logical at that time that whoever is the god of the river Nile should be the god of fertility since Nile had become synonymous with fertility. Hence, Sobek the god of the Nile and by extension the god of the crocodiles in the Nile was being worshiped for fertility. I guess that’s where the rationale of this contraceptive which is one of the earliest spermicides came from. 1850 years before Christ was born, the Egyptians developed a spermicidal pessary consisting of crocodile poop. The dung is alkaline just like most modern spermicides. But I guess the logic might come from the fact that since the Nile represented fertility. Anything from the Nile could help with fertility issues. But, before you try on our ancient recipe, consider the fact that there might be some kind of rituals performed before the use of the contraceptives that historians might have missed. Or, it could just be that it simply didn’t work as the Egyptians later switched to a new contraceptive containing flaxseed and honey. Whatever may be the case, I guess medicine always finds a way of evolving. Anyway, while their spermicides may be disgusting, they are credited for making one of the earliest condoms from the intestines of animals.
The Egyptians did have something in common with the Europeans and Greecians; taking poopy pills. The Greek physician Herophilus introduced the use of camel dung and urine in medicine. The Egyptians also believed in making creams from poo and rubbing wounds. They believed pus was medicinal and helped in treating infections. So they rubbed poo into their eyes and wounds to combat infections. That’s disturbing considering the fact that poo will most likely make your infections worse. The practice of rubbing poo on wounds was not just limited to the Egyptians but the Greek physician Galen believed in rubbing pigeons poo on wounds to promote wound healing.
Other ancient uses of poo
Poo of camels and cows have been used by the ancient Arabs as fuel. Well to some it might be a little surprising but it makes sense when you realise that dung can bring out a lot of methane and natural gasses which can be explosive. A reference was even made in the bible as to using poo to bake bread. There was a time when God asked Ezekiel to bake bread using human poo for fuel as a sign of Israel’s impending doom. Ezek 4:12. When Ezekiel protested it was later changed to cow poo Ezek 4:14-15. So it was known at that time that poo could be used as some sort of fuel. So the next time you are at a barbecue and you want to have a cost effective energy use. You could just try roasting your chickens and making your barbecue with poo. yummy…
In addition to the use of poo as fertilizers, the Romans also used poo as a kind of bleach. Urine is known to give off ammonia which is a good cleaning agent. The Romans are known to use a mixture of poo and urine to tan leathers and to clean up their public toilet facilities. Well, it’s quite ironic that the very things which make the toilet dirty can be used to clean them. Very resourceful indeed! I could also imagine having to “bed wet” on my leather pants in order to give it a good tan.
Anyway, however perplexed we may be by the use of poo in the ancient times, we cannot help but think that there may be some useful tips to it (we cannot forget the wisdom of the ancients). Medicine has recently been looking at the ancient methods for answers and these methods may be coming back in a more scientific refined way. For example, we cannot deny that it may still be sensible to use urine for jellyfish stings. We also may have heard of maggot therapy for wounds in which live maggots are placed on wounds. This sounds like an archaic practice but is in fact a recent practice. The recent fecal microbiota transplant was said to be a modification of an ancient Chinese practice prescribed for the same kind of digestive system disturbances. They called the poop “yellow soup”. Though the ancient use of poop may seem disturbing and harmful, the fact still remains that in critically examining them, we might find answers to some of the disturbing questions that still plague modern medicine.
Cey, J. (2012, 12 11). The early modern matter of fecal medicines. Retrieved from The Recipes project: recipes.hypotheses.org/552
glowatz, e. (n.d.). The use of poop in medical treatments throughout history. Retrieved from medical daily: www.medicaldaily.com
Sherman, R. A. (2009). Maggot therapy takes us back to the future of wound care: New and improved maggot therapy for the 21st century. Journal of Diabetes science and technology, 336-344.