Health fads A-Z

A humorous look at the world of ‘medicine’

Americans may be the most gullible people on the planet. We pride ourselves on being so modern and scientific, yet when it comes to our health, we’re willing to suspend disbelief and try almost any new potion, pill or poultice that a sharp-looking guy in a white coat (or a dude dressed like an Indian) tells us will cure whatever malady is in vogue this week.

Often these “cures” work as well as any placebo, which to some people is good enough. If it makes you feel better, it’s medicine, right? Yet sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease. Remember thalidomide and the flipper babies? It’s not an obscure punk band—thalidomide was a pain drug doctors used to give to pregnant women, many of whom ended up giving birth to babies whose limbs were tragically deformed. And before you hippies start nodding your heads and talking about the horrors of so-called “Western medicine,” let’s not forget the dozens of nutritional supplements over at the natural-foods store that claim “therapeutic benefits” but actually cure nothing but the manufacturers’ painful cash deficiency.

So, for this issue, we offer this as a reminder that a dose of skepticism is often worth its weight in colloidal silver when it comes to keeping yourself healthy. Sit back, pop a couple Prozac, wash it down with some cod liver oil (yum!) and feel your life force begin to accumulate.

Aromatherapy: Do you really think smelling lavender is going to boost your immune system? I’ve got one for you—why don’t you smell my finger?

Bee pollen: My mother-in-law snuck this into my father-in-law’s food one time, thinking it would give him more energy. It was a sad chapter in my wife’s family history, as her father is terribly allergic to it and ended up in the hospital after swelling up, gasping for breath and almost dying. Otherwise, the stuff’s great.

Colonics: Oh, you had it done? You say it works? Pervert.

Death: It has its drawbacks, but it does cure most illnesses.

Ear candling: You dopes. Ear candling doesn’t work. You can’t cure a headache—or anything else—by sticking a lit candle in your ear. The purveyors of this scam claim that it creates a vacuum that will suck disease-generating toxins right out of your head. Don’t believe it. The yucky looking stuff that collects in the hollow candle is melted candle wax and ash. And if you do it wrong, as has happened more than once, you could rupture your eardrum or light your hair on fire.

Faith healing: Don’t even get me started. There is not one verifiable case of anybody being actually healed through prayer, laying on of hands or being doused in holy water. If it gives you comfort and hope—and it’s free—then do it. But go see a doctor too.

Garlique: Larry King pimps this stuff on AM radio. Apparently it makes you old, short and Jewish.

Homeopathy: Please. The “science” behind homeopathy is ludicrous. The quacks who prescribe this stuff say that giving patients what are basically sugar pills including one or two molecules of something extracted from a dehydrated duck liver (or another equally disgusting substance) is going to make them feel better. But if the homeopathists’ assertion that “the smaller the dose, the greater the effect” is true, than why can’t I get drunk by sticking my tongue in a glass of Michelob Light?

Iridology: This is the one where they look into your eyes and tell you what kind of herbs to take. That’ll be $100, please.

Jade: Rubbing this green rock on your face is supposed to clear up your skin, only I hear diamonds work better.

Kava root: Originally used ritualistically by Pacific Islanders, this stuff has been making the rounds at natural-foods stores for the past few years as a cure for anxiety. It makes you feel kind of loopy, which is nice, but it apparently can also wreck your liver. You may want to stick with bourbon.

Low-carb diets: Here’s one fad on its way out—or are you still ordering your hamburger in a bowl with no bun? Yes, eating only bacon for two weeks will induce ketosis (basically, the burning of fat), and you’ll lose weight, mostly because the process takes a lot of water out of your system. But you certainly won’t be any healthier, and sooner or later the weight will come back. Ask Dr. Atkins’ ghost—he weighed 258 pounds when he died and his arteries looked like cheese-stuffed blintzes.

Medical marijuana: Yeah, you’ll feel better. Your appetite will improve. You won’t be so stressed and you’ll feel less pain. You’ll also get high and forget why you got up and went to the garage, which will make you paranoid that there’s a gremlin in your house, so you’ll get in your car and drive off in a panic, mowing down several small children who you thought were evil leprechauns trying to steal your weed. That’s why the green stuff is still illegal while the big pharmaceutical companies continue to market expensive, federally approved pills that don’t work as well and have side effects that are just as bad as pot’s.

Naturopathy: Sort of a catch-all description for the kooks who believe in so-called “holistic” treatment. Naturopaths are known to use crystals, meditation, herbs and whatever else is trendy among the new-age crowd to try to cure people. Good luck with this one.

Oxygenated water: Before you buy that $2,000 oxygenating water cooler that’s supposed to detoxify your blood, consider the following: You breathe oxygen with your lungs (or your gills, if you’re a sea-dwelling mutant), not your stomach. If you want to save money, you can “oxygenate” water simply by shaking it in a Mason jar, but you still aren’t going to raise your oxygen levels by drinking it any more than you would by taking a deep breath.

Patent medicines: The granddaddy of American health scams, patent medicines were usually tinctures of alcohol, often mixed with opium, cocaine, mercury or whatever else the pseudonymous makers of these bogus cures could get their hands on. In the 1800s and early 1900s, these things flourished among our mostly poor and illiterate populace. If you were lucky back then, you bought the stuff that was really just flavored water, because some of the other brands could get you hooked, make you blind or even kill you.

Qi gong: Why is everything the ancient Chinese ever thought of considered wise? If there is a life force (known as qi or chi), it has never been proven to exist. But when has that ever stopped anyone from grandiose and unverifiable claims? To be fair, though, there is some evidence that acupuncture, which is based on treating one’s qi, is an effective treatment for things like migraine headaches. Go figure.

Reflexology: Did you know that there is a biochemical path between a precise spot on your foot and, say, your kidney? And did you also know that a skilled reflexologist can massage that spot in a way that will break up your kidney stones? You didn’t know that? Gee, you’re kind of dumb, aren’t you?

Sharkilage: Even the companies selling this stuff won’t say what it will do for you. They just talk about what a cool animal the shark is and how they “have a natural immunity to almost every disease known to man.” Duh. How would a shark catch a cold?

Transfusions: Made famous by notorious druggy Keith Richards, transfusions caught on for a while in the ‘80s, especially among other rich, hard-partying celebrities. Today, the threat of HIV/AIDS has reportedly depressed the once-booming Swiss transfusion clinic boom.

Urine therapy: The big drug companies want to cover this up, but did you know you can cure almost anything by drinking your own urine? Don’t laugh! Pee-pee is sterile, chock full of vitamins and oh-so-yummy. Just remember to brush your teeth afterwards.

Viagra: One of the side effects of this billion-dollar rod-hardener is that sometimes the erection it’s supposed to produce won’t go away for as long as four hours. What if you have to go somewhere?

Wind chimes: This excerpt from a Web site that sells these annoying clankers says it all: “Healing wind chimes, chakra chimes and wind chimes seem like angel voices in the wind, like a Spirit wind through garden chimes. We have a chime for your special needs. Enjoy the sounds that heal in the garden. Use windchimes like Angels use sound vibrations to awaken us. Angelic voices sometimes use chime music for spiritual healing.”

X: Also known as ecstasy or MDMA, this now-illegal stuff was invented to help psychiatric patients deal with depression and malaise. Once it was banned, millions of otherwise normal people decided to give it a try. Now, aside from its being the drug of choice among attendees at all-night raves and swingers’ parties, doctors are studying its use as a will-to-live booster among cancer patients.

Yoga: There really is nothing like tying yourself in a knot to help you relax.

Zoloft: This stuff seemed like a miracle cure for depression and anxiety when it first came out, but there is now speculation that it increases the risk of suicide. Talk about depressing.