The concept of iatrochemistry refers to a historical stage of the chemistry as science, when it began to detach itself from the alchemy and was linked to the medicine. Iatrochemistry aimed to explain various physiological and pathological processes of the human organism, considering that health depended on the balance of supposed bodily fluids.
Paracelsus (1493-1541) is noted as the father of iatrochemistry. In the century XVI, the postulates of this scientist were considered avant-garde and, although today they are already archaic, they are still valued as precursors of the current knowledge of biochemistry Y pharmacology, for instance.
Iatrochemistry is often noted as a link or transition between alchemy (associated with esotericism) and chemistry. In other words: it would not have been possible to achieve a scientific development of chemistry without iatrochemistry and, earlier, without alchemy.
It was Paracelsus who argued that physiological and pathological processes were caused by chemical reactions. from this one on theory, many iatrochemicals appealed to the combination of various substances to prepare remedies.
Iatrochemistry, in this framework, resorted to reductionism and tried to explain the totality of the phenomena of life from chemistry. Continuing with this reasoning, he argued that pathologies they could be solved chemically.
It can be affirmed, in short, that iatrochemistry became obsolete when the medical practices typical of the modern era began to be forged. Despite this issue, their historical contributions and its relevance between the middle of the century XVI and the middle of the century XVII, especially in the region of Flanders.
As in any other field of knowledge, iatrochemistry would not have existed if it had not been for the different people who dedicated their lives to its study and development. For this reason, below we will review the biographical data of the most significant for this science that was lost in time.
We can start with Jan Baptista van Helmont, born in the year 1577 and known as the first in represent iatrochemistry. It is known that he made public the great respect he felt for Paracelsus and in fact shared with him his way of understanding metaphysical elements. He maintained that water and ferment were the two most important elements in any body.
Jan Baptista also pointed out that the individual was made up of three spheres: the archeus (a gray area between the material and spiritual world), the soul and the spirit. The first could be altered due to the action of “noxious agents”, which consequently affected the ferment and this was related to diseases.
In 1614 he was born Franz de le Boë, a German scientist whose commitment to iatrochemistry ranks him even above Jan Baptista, whose concepts he refined to the point of, for example, leaving behind the idea of archeus. He did support fermentation, a process that he considered essential in all organism and from which acids and alkalis were released. These two substances were of great importance to him: our health depended on their balance; if it was disturbed, the disease arose.
A contemporary of Franz de le Boë, the Italian Baglivi, who criticized his predecessors for being “speculative and indecisive” in contrast to Greek medicine, much more linked to reason. Robert Boyle, an Irishman who also devoted himself to physics and theology, formulated the law who bears his last name and is considered the first to develop modern chemistry, although his roots were inevitably found in iatrochemistry.
One of his works, The skeptical chemist, proposes the existence of atoms as the basis of matter and that these move and can collide, unleashing the various phenomena that we notice through observation.