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Saladin's castle in Cairo, where Maimonides worked

Saladin’s castle in Cairo, where Maimonides worked

Maimonides and health care

In the 1100s AD, when Maimonides wrote his book about medicinedoctors didn’t have very many medicines or medical treatments that worked.

The Guide for the Perplexed
Medieval Islamic medicine
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Most of the things they tried just made people even worse. Maimonides was smart enough to realize this. So he wrote his book mainly about how to stay healthy and not get sick in the first place.

The synagogue where Maimonides worked in Cairo, Egypt

The synagogue where Maimonides worked in Cairo, Egypt

Drink clean water; walk in parks

For instance, he realized that a lot of people got sick when they lived in cities. This was because the sewage got mixed with the water supply. It brought dysentery and cholera germs to people who drank the water. He thought it was something in the air. But he told people to try to live “in a city with an open forestation and outside water.” That was good advice.

What is dysentery?
What is cholera?

Eat right and exercise

Maimonides also thought people could stay healthier by keeping clean. He thought they should get good food and plenty of exercise and fresh air. In this he agreed with other doctors of his time, like the Armenian doctor Mkhitar Heratsi.

Who was Mkhitar Heratsi?
Medieval Islamic food

What about depression?

Maimonides also thought, correctly, that people who were upset or depressed were more likely to get sick. So he advised doctors to try to protect their patients from things that might upset them. Doctors should help people figure out how they could be happier.
He advised people who were depressed to listen to music, look at paintings, and take pleasant walks, in order to recover. He did not believe in witches or curses. And he said that anyone who thought magic spells could make you sick was foolish.

Doctors and magic in ancient Egypt

Chicken soup and other treatments

The rabbi Maimonides, in a later medieval painting

The rabbi Maimonides, in a later medieval painting

If you got sick anyway, Maimonides thought that chicken soup could make you better. For snakebite, he suggested tourniquets, burning out the poison, and rest. In any case, no charms or spells would help.

Where do chickens come from?

What Maimonides got wrong

There were also other things that Maimonides could not understand correctly. He prescribed many herbal medicines that we know today don’t work, and he didn’t know that there were physical problems that caused depression. He thought a good diet might help with asthma.

Who was Aristotle?

In order to find out what was right, Maimonides insisted, like Aristotle, that scientific experiments and logical thought were the only way to find out what caused diseases, how to prevent them, and how to cure them. He encouraged his students to carry out this kind of scientific experiment.

Learn by doing: do you feel better after exercising?

More about Maimonides
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