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What Did The Tudors Believe About The Humours Of The Body?

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Today we use the word humour to describe something that makes us laugh. In Tudor times, people used it to describe what went wrong when you became ill. People still believed the theories of a doctor called Galen who had lived in ancient Greece, hundreds of years earlier.

Galen believed that the normal healthy person had four elements, or humours, in their body. These were blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Blood was hot and wet; phlegm was cold and wet; black bile was cold and dry; yellow bile was hot and dry. When all four were present in equal amounts, the body was healthy. When they were out of balance, illness was the result.

If you had a cold, you obviously had too much phlegm in your body, and the cure suggested by Galen was to draw out as much phlegm as possible to rebalance the four humours. Adding dryness and heat to the body was also thought to help, so cold cures included hot dry foods and medicines such as pepper, ginger and mustard. A fever was thought to be due to too much blood in the body. If you had a fever you were advised to have a serious bleeding session to draw of the excess blood.

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