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Australia Snake oil was used as traditional medicine throughout history. How did it get such a bad name?

00:32  17 october  2021
00:32  17 october  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Derived from the Chinese water snake , snake oil was rich in the omega-3 acids that help reduce inflammation and was quite effective, especially when used to treat arthritis and bursitis. I've heard an alternative explanation that snake oil referred to petroleum at that time, which was also used as a medicine .

Extracted from the oil of Chinese water snakes , it likely arrived in the United States in the 1800s, with the influx of Chinese workers toiling on the Transcontinental Railroad. Rich in omega-3 acids, it was used to reduce inflammation and treat arthritis and bursitis, and was rubbed on the workers’ joints after a long day of working on the railroad.Enter Clark Stanley, “The Rattlesnake King.” That didn’t stop other unscrupulous doctors and fraudulent salesmen, who also started traveling the American West, peddling bottles of fake snake oil , giving the truly beneficial medical treatment a bad name .

Since the pandemic began, there's been talk of numerous dubious cure-alls for COVID-19.

President Trump spruiked the malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus, even though the World Health Organization says that clinical trials show it doesn't prevent illness or death.

And earlier this year, US TV pastor Jim Bakker was ordered to pay restitution for selling a health supplement that he falsely claimed could cure COVID-19.

Historically, dodgy remedies have been dubbed 'snake oil' and those that push them 'snake oil salesmen'.

But what are the origins of snake oil and how did selling it get such a bad name?

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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a branch of traditional medicine in China. TCM is said to be based on Compendium of Materia Medica and Huangdi Neijing.

E. You use water to clean yourself, your clothes, your dishes, your car and everything else around you. You can travel on it or jump in it to cool off on hot summer days. Many of the products that you use every day contain water or were manufactured using it . It seems pretty simple, and yet there are a lot of B. Pets provide support because they are always available to listen (without any judgment) or rub up against your hand, which can help you relax after a hectic day. They can help you see the situation differently and let out some steam. Moreover, when you are feeling under the weather, there is

Healing benefits

According to Dr Caitjan Gainty, who lectures on the history of science, technology and medicine at London's King's College, snake oil was sold throughout America in the 18th and 19th century.

"Snake oil was regarded as something that was a very effective cure for a lot of different kinds of things, especially for things like rheumatism and arthritis," Dr Gainty tells ABC RN's Sunday Extra.

Some advertisements went a step further and claimed it could cure a sore throat, catarrh, hay fever, cramps and even deafness.

"Whether or not it helped in every case isn't totally clear," she says.

"But certainly, in the cases of arthritis, it seems like it did make a difference."

Snake oil has always had exotic origins, Dr Gainty says.

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"Some people would say: 'This is from an African Voodoo doctor that I met or this is from a Native American or this is secured from China and brought here by the Chinese migrants who are working on the railroad'," she says.

It was used medicinally in many different cultures because of the benefits from the omega-3 fatty acids found in the flesh of certain snakes, particularly the water snake in China. This could have been why it seemed to help with ailments such as arthritis.

"But whatever the origins, the idea was that snake oil in this form was actually helpful and curative."

In the 19th century, the American pioneers, who'd likely heard about the reputed healing benefits of snake oil, would capture many of the native rattlesnakes and sent them off to be turned into oil in the hope of making some extra money, Dr Gainty explains.

Snake oil was also cheaper than other available medicines at the time. So when unorthodox medical practitioners started selling it on the travelling medicine show circuits, the public was open to trying it.

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"These traveling entertaining events would move from town to town," Dr Gainty says.

"You would get great entertainers like Harry Houdini and lots of bluegrass and country music people playing. And you'd also get these people who were selling their snake oil."

What's in it?

Initially the product was what it claimed to be — namely actual snake oil. But over the years, it became unclear exactly what was in these remedies.

That was until the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act came into force and investigators began taking a closer look.

It turned out that snake oil wasn't as authentic as it was purported to be.

Dr Gainty said there was a classic example at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

"This snake oil salesman Clark Stanley boiled up some snakes on the spot and then sort of skimmed [the oil] off and put it in bottles and said 'Here is your snake oil'," she says.

Inspectors found it wanting.

"They said, 'This is red pepper and camphor — that's not snake oil. This is a problem'," she adds.

The legislation went even further. Manufacturers were required to label their products if ingredients such as alcohol, opium, morphine, heroin, cannabis indica, chloral hydrate were present.

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Snake oil in Australia

Australians had a different approach.

"Here in Australia we tended to use the term 'quack' rather than snake oil salesman," Monica Cronin, the curator of the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History, says.

The Melbourne museum currently has an exhibition called From Snake Oil to Science, that provides insight into some of the folklore medicines once used in Australia.

Snake oil itself wasn't as popular here as it was overseas.

"I'm not aware of any actual snake oil being manufactured [in Australia]," says Ms Cronin.

"That might have something to do with our closer association with Britain than America at that point in time."

It doesn't mean that snake oil wasn't sold here entirely, she adds.

"It just means they weren't advertising it in newspapers, or those papers haven't been digitised yet."

But there were still unorthodox medical practitioners in Australia.

Ms Cronin points to Ludwig Bruck, a 19th century medical journalist, who set about naming and shaming unregistered 'doctors'.

He had 257 unregistered practitioners on his list from across Australia and New Zealand.

Some claimed they practised medical clairvoyance, where they would touch a patient or one of their possessions and diagnose them.

Others claimed to be hydropathists, electrotherapists and phrenologists.

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And there were plenty of unusual cures, many of which are highlighted in the exhibition.

She offers an interesting example:

"Cough medicine in Australia [contained] heroin up until the 1950s."

"So heroin will, in fact, relieve your cough. But it's not necessarily advisable to have it available as an over-the-counter medication, so those sorts of things were happening."

It was also common for medicines to contain alcohol as the main ingredient.

"One of the ones that was super common was Chamberlain's Cough Remedy," she says.

"It was apparently going to cure whooping coughing, hoarseness, bronchitis, sore throat, influenza and all diseases of the throat and lungs. Probably alcohol was its main ingredient.

"We've got Perry Davis Vegetable Pain Killer. The active ingredient was probably the alcohol and also capsicum because the active ingredient in capsicum and chilli can be used in pain relief.

"They may have worked but how effective they were is up for grabs."

While many of these so-called remedies have disappeared, the use of snake oil in medical treatment has reportedly persisted.

"There was this proposal out of Florida that they should solve their invasive species problem – with the Burmese python – to harvest those snakes and use the squalene in those snakes as an additive to COVID-19 vaccines," Dr Gainty says.

"But I don't think anyone took this too seriously."

Eradicating snakes from the land is not as popular as it was in the 19th century in America.

"Apparently none of the big vaccine makers have used [squalene], which pleased animal rights groups which are against the use of the Burmese python."

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This is interesting!