Illustration of Toxicology

1538 Toxicology

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Paracelsus toxicology Illustration of Toxicology


Alle Dinge sind Gift (All things are poison) und nichts ist ohne Gift (and nothing is without poison), macht nur die Dosis etwas (only the dose makes a thing) ein Gift oder kein Gift (a poison or not a poison), so dass ein Gift (so that a poison) ist zu viel von etwas (is too much of something); zu wenig von allem (too little of anything), ohne Ausnahme (without exception), ist kein Gift (is not a poison).

Difficult man

His real name was Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, and he annoyed everybody. He advocated keeping wounds clean, which annoyed his colleagues who wrapped them in cow dung and feathers because they believed infection was part of the healing process. He ridiculed the theory that disease arises from an internal imbalance of the four humors and can be restored by purging and bloodletting. He said that disease was an entity that attacked the body from the outside, not an internal imbalanced state. He said that bloodletting disturbed the harmony of the body and you cannot purify blood by lessening its quantity. He angered his colleagues by lecturing in German instead of Latin to make medical knowledge more accessible to common people. He condemned the authority of Avicenna and Galen and publicly threw their books into a bonfire on Saint John’s Day. He arrogantly told professors that their tassels and titles didn’t matter as long as their theories were never tested. He said, “if disease put us to the test, all our splendor, title, ring, and name will be as much help as a horse’s tail.” He quarrelled about religion and about fees for his services, and viciously slandered his opponents until they drove him out of town.

Some toxins

Alcohol’s a toxic drug with interesting effects including inhibiting stress suppressing social graces. Even mercury or arsenic can trick a cure with low doses, which is called “sufficient challenge.” For some toxic chemicals maybe it’s true—there’s no safe minimum dose. But not sunlight, which can cause skin cancer but also produce vitamin D in the skin. Cobalt pigment is highly toxic, but in vitamin B12 it’s essential to all animals. The low dose of a drug like salt or sugar can have a paradoxical effect, not simply overwhelm the system like a chemotheraputic drug. You’ve gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die, they say. What doesn’t kill you might only make you stronger.

Paracelsus showed that syphilis was contracted by contact and treated with carefully measured doses of mercury. He is credited with introducing the first pain-killer to the west, the opiate laudanum. He was the first to point out that psychology affects physiology, that unconscious fantasizing about certain diseases can make a person more vulnerable to them.

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