In Europe, from the 16th century to 1960, human fat was used to make medicinal ointments

(ORDO NEWS) — In 16th-century Europe, anyone suffering from arthritis, bone pain, toothache, or gout could go to their local pharmacy and buy themselves a bottle of Axungia hominis (human fat). Known colloquially as “poor sinners’ fat”, it was commonly extracted from the bodies of executed prisoners.

Since ancient times, human and animal fat has been of great medical interest for its possible medicinal properties, but efforts to use fat in the manufacture of drugs really took off in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, especially in France and Germany.

For the executioners, this meant big business! They collected human fat from freshly executed criminals and sold it to doctors and apothecaries by the pound. Until the middle of the 18th century, executioners in Germany even made their own homemade potions from human fat.

Precious adipose tissue didn’t just come from executed prisoners. It was also collected from fallen soldiers. After a bloody battle at the siege of Ostend in 1601, Dutch surgeons swarm the battlefield and set to work collecting as much fat as possible, which they then used to treat the wounds of their soldiers.

In Europe from the 16th century to 1960 human fat was used to make medicinal ointments 2
Two apothecary vessels (albarelli) with the inscription AXUNG. HOMINIS (“Human Fat”), dating from about the 17th or 18th century, in the German Apothecary Museum in Heidelberg, Germany

Human fat has been used to treat various ailments, usually in the form of an ointment rubbed into the skin or in grease-soaked dressings.

It was believed to be particularly effective in reducing scarring, healing wounds, reducing joint pain, and stimulating the growth of nerves and tendons.

The belief that human fat had healing properties was not entirely wrong. It is now known that adipose tissue can promote the growth of new blood vessels.

During the early 1900s in Germany, human fat was still used for disinfecting wounds and surgical treatment of scars, and until the 1960s human fat from the placenta was used in anti-wrinkle creams.

Eventually, the supply of human fat for medical use dried up, as did the desire to use cream made from dead bodies!


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