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The original Paracelsus

The original Paracelsus

Paracelsus was the father of alternative medicine in the Western world. A true Renaissance man renowned for his work as a physician, botanist and chemist, Paracelsus is best known for insisting that the practice of medicine be based on evidence rather than upon the conventions of the Fathers of Medicine passed down from antiquity. He opposed bloodletting, the most common treatment of his time, because he recognized that it only weakened patients.

His theories were based on what he learned from his cases, experiments, and travels, which took him from his native Switzerland throughout Europe. He’s credited today with the invention of toxicology, the standardization of dosage in pharmacology, the first medical uses of laudanum and mercury, the doctrine that physicians must master the physical sciences, the connection between environmental toxins and disease, the therapeutic use of diet, and the discovery that illness often has an emotional or psychological origin.

Paracelsus was inherently holistic in his approach, seeing the connection between the individual and the universe as between microcosm and macrocosm. This was the context in which he sought medicines in herbs, minerals and food, and asserted that the physician should support the intrinsic power of the body to heal.

Not surprisingly, the teachings of Paracelsus influenced modern medicine for centuries. But as Western medicine evolved, it became increasingly reductionist and specialized. Because of Paracelsus, Germany and Switzerland retained a distinct medical tradition that remained stubbornly alternative and holistic. Today both countries offer therapies that are unavailable elsewhere.  In fact, Switzerland is the only country in the world today which enshrines access to alternative medicine in its national constitution as a basic human right.