Leeches, cabbage soup and rotten teeth – a potted history of the pursuit of wellbeing

It’s not something we’d given much – if any - thought to and yet this week we found out why a red and white pole hangs outside of barber shops. And it really gave us pause.  

The red stood for blood and the white for bandages – it’s a throwback to Medieval England when barbers also moonlighted as surgeons and performed bodily operations. One such procedure was bloodletting which can be traced back to ancient Egypt and consisted of opening veins and draining blood from the body, taking with it ailments and evil spirits. This was done with leeches or (inevitably) dirty knives. Patients would grip sticks to make their veins stand out – hence the pole outside the shops

Back then wellbeing was just as prized as it is now – but knowledge of what makes one either healthful or ailing was almost non-existent. This was a time when the concept of germs was alien – there were no sewers and many people were sceptical about bathing for fear water would carry plague through their pores.

Then, during the Renaissance, rotten, blackened teeth were also the height of fashion thanks to Queen Elizabeth I who used sugar – as rare and expensive and diamonds or gold - as a status symbol and had a smile to prove it.

Women across the country put soot on their teeth in a bid to look like they too were of nobility and could afford to gorge on the white stuff liberally. Ironically, peasants who had a primarily vegetarian diet and would never taste sugar had megawatt smiles by comparison.

Later, the Victorians would consume pills which contained tapeworms in order to lose weight without restricting their diets, and believed that the shape of the head gave clues as to mental health.

Then in the early 20th century cigarette companies used advertising to promote health benefits: Lucky Strike sold themselves as an appetite suppressant, while Camel even used doctors to promote them.

The 50s, 60s and 70s were awash with fad diets – cabbage soup, grapefruit, amphetamines – and by the early 90s people were eliminating all fat from the menu.

In the noughties people bounced about in FitFlops – elevated shoes that promised to improve muscle tone

And it’s not as if unusual lifestyle choices are all in the past.

Today Gwyneth Paltrow even has women steaming their vaginas in a bid to aid a host of ailments including headaches, depression and PMS. ‘Detox’ teas are still widely sold despite many containing ‘hidden’ laxatives and people are still interested in administering themselves coffee enemas…

People will always want to feel good and will always try to find ways to make it happen. This means wellness as a concept and as an industry will always be in flux meaning different things to different people.

What does it mean to us, at HUX? We believe wellness is subject to so many variables. We recognise life is busy and complex – and it is absolutely there to be lived. There are good days and bad days. HUX is there to bring about balance. Our products are a reliable means of putting proven goodness into your system to optimise good health or, at other times, to offset stress and late nights.

And unlike our counterparts in the Middle Ages, we’re backed by science, technology and experience.

We’re not a fad, but we’re also not a way of life either. We’re part of a life well lived.