5 Bizarre Medical Treatments You Won’t Believe Still Exist

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In general, our sciences improve over time. Today’s medical practice is more sophisticated than yesterday’s, despite how sophisticated yesterday’s seemed at the time. We accept this as a reality.

Because of this, we expect tomorrow to usher in better clarity, new procedures, new medicine. It was science that replaced voodoo, but it is only better science will replace what we have today.

For the most part, this is all true. Gone are practices of witch doctors, at least in the developed world. No respected medical professional touts the benefits of ointments and rituals for treating cancer.

By this logic, it's mind-boggling to learn that some old medical practices have re-entered the sphere of science if they ever left it in the first place.

This list will curl the nostril hairs of the average educated reader just by the titles, but by the end reading the facts may have you nodding your head.

This will all make perfect sense in a minute.




When one first learns of this practice, the recoil is visceral. It sounds abhorrent. The technical name for the procedure is leukotomy or leucotomy, which cleans it up some, but nothing can cover the up the horror from the practice, not in its original form.

The short of it is that practitioners disconnect, by way of scraping or cutting, the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The effect ranges from a vegetative state to death in some cases.

Despite the gruesomeness of this practices, for the decades of the 1940s and ‘50s, the mainstream medical community in developed western nations used it to control patients with severe psychiatric conditions. 

By our best estimates, in the United States alone, practitioners executed some 20,000… leukotomies.

Flash forward to modern medicine, where today’s doctors have high-resolution imaging machines. They also have decades of better brain research.

Because of this, we’ve witnessed a return of the leukotomy, but not a version so brutal. By targeting and removing small portions of the brain, neurologists have been successful refusing seizures without turning patients into vegetables.

These procedures are like a non-lobotomizing lobotomies.

Epilepsy patients are high on the list of potentials. Some 6,500 of these surgeries took place in the U.S. between 1990 and 2008.

We call them lobectomies in this case. Success rates are huge for seizure patients, like 75%.




This practice, sometimes called humorism, dates back to the Ancient Greeks, around the time of Hippocrates.

To avoid slinging blood on the righteous Hippocrates, it was his contemporary Erasistratus who theorized disease was a result of too much blood, yellow bile, black bile or phlegm.

These, they called the four humors.

Part of the problem was, at the time, they didn’t understand that blood recycled in the body. They believed it could build up over time.

Bloodletting lingered as a legitimate medical practice for about 2,000 years before better science would course correct humanity and the medical practice.

To bloodlet a patient, a physician would use knives or leeches. The use of leeches for bloodletting lingered from 800 BCE all the way to the 1800s.

As it was, the positive results from bloodletting were minuscule. A patient forced to bleed was more likely to feel relief only when she passed away from blood loss or infection.

Despite the widespread dismissal of the practice, treatment of two disorders still include bloodletting.

The first is hereditary hemochromatosis, a condition causing absorption of excessive dietary iron, which causes tissue damage, benefits from phlebotomy (the modern name).

Another disorder, polycythemia vera, causes an increased number of mature blood cells. Phlebotomy helps. In modern times, we’ve discovered that leeches mouths contain medicinal enzymes.

Used properly in micro surgery, those medicinal elements aid patients with blood circulation. Most physicians will say the jury is out on the value, but the bloodletting marches on nonetheless.




Here’s the thing about maggots, they eat rotten tissue. They also happen to be disgusting.

Early cultures, in different parts of the world, figured out that putting a few maggots on a wound stopped the spread of infection, sped healing, and saved lives.

Archeological evidence reveals that first humans from the Aboriginal tribes of Australia to the Mayan native people of the Americas used maggots in the same way.

The practice carried into more recent history too. French physicians of the Napoleonic wars used maggots to speed up the healing process.

What put the maggot out of business was humanity’s discovery of moldy bread. We developed antibiotics; so much less disgusting than maggots on the body.

In more recent history, as we’ve run into resistant bacteria from overprescription of antibiotics, some speculate that the old practice of maggots might return.

Although it’s not widespread as a practice yet, in 1989, researchers found maggots an effective treatment for wounds.

In 2004, the U.S. FDA approved the use of maggots for non-healing wounds, like certain ulcers, and other non-healing wounds.

At home, Maggot debridement therapy (MDT) has been a part of the aboriginal wound treatment regimen since before Europeans settled this island. Today, more and more practitioners revisit this option.  



Thanks to German scientists, in the 1950s the world met a new miracle drug, thalidomide. It was the panacea of its day, a cure for infections, insomnia, coughs, headaches, and nausea.

Many doctors prescribed thalidomide for that pesky morning sickness women would suffer during their first trimester.

Despite a big thumbs-down from some countries, like the U.S.A., it was widely used in the United Kingdom, and of course Germany. It broke sales records, the most successful medication in history, especially when it went over-the-counter.

There was only one problem with thalidomide. Children born from expecting mothers suffered serious birth defects. Tens of thousands of babies came into the world deformed, missing limbs or worse, they died.

In short order, thalidomide came off the shelves, but not out of the lab.

In 1991, researchers discovered thalidomide could regulate the immune system in adults.

Then, in 1998, the United States licensed the use of thalidomide, Australia in 2003, and Canada in 2010. Although under tight regulation in all cases, thalidomide is back in the developed world.

Treatment is exclusively for multiple myeloma, a cancer of malignant plasma cells. Most practitioners will explore all other options before resigning to using thalidomide.

Risks could include drowsiness, fatigue, constipation, and nerve damage. In some cases, the neuropathy does not end by removing the medication.



9/24/12 Daily Dose arsenic in rice CREDIT: Globe staff; iStockphoto

The atomic number of the mineral we call Arsenic is 33, and the symbol is As. It’s a metalloid, but most folks know it as a poison.

Common uses today are in pesticides or herbicide. The closest arsenic gets to medicinal use is as a semiconductor in medical devices.

At one time, however, it was an effective tool for fighting disease. Physicians used it to treat patients with infection around the skin, but it also made it into a famous tonic called Fowler’s solution.

That tonic people used to treat high blood pressure, ulcers, asthma, cancers, and other disorders. Assassins famously use the pure form of arsenic to poison their targets.

By the 20th century, use of arsenic faded out of common use.

Then, in 1900, Dr. Paul Ehrlich discovered an effective derivative of arsenic, atoxyl, which he used to treat trypanosomiasis, a chronic infection.

He also derived another product, Salvarsan for treating syphilis. Ehrlich’s arsenic derivatives enjoyed short popularity, but still caused negative side effects like blindness and even death.

Their creation, however, inspired other researchers to take his research to the next level.

In the 1940s, penicillin knocked this research to the back burner, but in the 1970s, researchers in China used arsenic trioxide to effectively treat a form of leukemia. To date, physicians retain arsenic trioxide as an option for treating promyelocytic leukemia.

What remains to be discovered is what will happen to such therapies in coming years, especially as we develop genetic level treatments. The CRISPR-Cas9 is the current hot ticket of the future.

In all likelihood, we’ll watch these rebirths suffer retreats in the medical practice. We may witness the same with CRISPR, hopefully due to better treatment options. Hopefully, the future will always look back and see the past as barbaric.

For now, we still have maggots.
Sources: 247wallst.comin-training.org
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