1. Corn flakes: a case of crumbling moral fiber
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, superintendent of the hospital and health spa in Battle Creek, Michigan, was obsessed with masturbation. His point of view, supported by little science but a whole lot of wrathful religious sentiment, was pretty common for late 19th and early 20th century and boiled down to the following: “If illicit commerce of the sexes is a heinous sin, self-pollution, or masturbation, is a crime doubly abominable…It is the most dangerous of all sexual abuses because it is the most extensively practiced.” Kellogg blamed self-abuse for enough illnesses to render anyone falling short of absolute abstinence an invalid. A propaganda booklet he published on the subject of masturbation lays at its doorstep everything from “atrophy of the testicles” to dwarfism. To combat this heinous vice in children, Kellogg advocated circumcision or metal chastity belts for boys and “application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris” for girls.
In his spa, Kellogg sought to fight the problem from within, by feeding his patients a bland-tasting diet that did not ‘arouse the passions’ – strictly vegetarian and mostly grain-based, with more emphasis on fiber and water than actual nutrients.
One day, a batch of corn was overcooked in the spa’s kitchen. Not wanting to waste dough, Kellogg ordered it processed anyway. The dough turned into flakes. Kellogg’s patients consumed this stale overcooked corn with enthusiasm, which speaks volumes about the usual quality of their menu. And the quintessential American breakfast staple was born, the progeny of stale grain and sex-obsessed Puritanism.
2. Acai berries
In this day and age, few illnesses call out so loudly for a panacea than obesity. How to get skinny and attractive while eating junk food and sitting on one’s ass in front of the computer – that’s the question on millions of fat-gripped minds. And because many people’s knowledge of physiology amounts to articles like “35 Ways to Surprise Your Man in Bed,” plus whatever they managed to retain from health class (like how to put a condom on a banana), they form a market ripe for exploitation. “Eat this pill and shed ten pounds!” Sure, it’s all going to be water weight that you’ll gain back within two weeks, but you don’t need to know that. And let’s not bother with silly questions about efficacy studies and FDA approval, either. Why, yes, we do take credit cards!
Acai fruit is a dark purple berry, larger than a blueberry but smaller than a grape, and it grows on palm trees in Central and South America. The flesh of the berry is edible, the large seed inside is not. They are eaten with tapioca in northern Brazil, with granola in southern Brazil, and they make for a tasty ice cream flavor. But if you do not live in Brazil, chances are you have never seen an actual fresh acai berry. What you’ve probably seen is dozens upon dozens of ads for açaí berry juice and acai dietary supplements. And those ads promise everything you can think of: dramatic weight-loss, a body cleansed of toxins, immunity from any disease, a bigger penis, higher confidence levels leading to a lifetime of riches, and all around eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.
Nutritionally, acai berries are rather unremarkable. Chemically, they are rich in flavonoids, but studies have shown that almost none of them get absorbed by the body. When used frozen, – and you’re unlikely to see them any fresher than this – the antioxidant potency of its pulp ranks below that of mango, strawberry and grapes, and above guava, passion fruit, and pineapple. And if all you can find is acai-containing juice blends, keep in mind that in clinical trials, their antioxidant capacity was determined to be less than that of red wine, Concord grape juice, blueberry juice, or black cherry juice.
These pedestrian facts don’t deter either acai-berry pushers or the gullible rubes who fall for their sweet-talk. Sometimes, acai-pushing takes the form of relatively straight-forward fraud – you give us your credit card number and we sign you up for a 14-day trial of our product FREE and then bill you $80 a bottle for the rest of your life. If you signed up for one of these scams, we wish you the best of luck in canceling your imprudent subscription.
But for the most part, acai is simply sold as nutritional supplements, energy shots, and fruit juice. There the fraud can be harder to detect, because dietary supplements and fruit juices are classified as “food” under US regulations: unlike real medicine, they don’t require FDA approval to go on sale in the United States.
This makes the US a goldmine for hucksters. For instance, the beverage company MonaVie based in South Jordan, UT, distributes modestly-sized bottles of juice blends of freeze-dried acai powder and other fruit puree at $40 a pop. Because most sane people would not pay that kind of money for any fruit juice, no matter how exotic and Brazilian, the customer is promised that the product will strengthen their concentration, lower their cholesterol, boost their immunity, and in short give their body a complete tune-up. The company sells this magic potion through MLM, or multi-level marketing – in other words, a pyramid scheme. A rube is recruited as a seller, buys a certain number of bottles from the company, then re-sells them to other rubes in an attempt to recruit them into distributing as well. When all is said and done, the finances work out in proper pyramidal fashion: 90% of the distributors end up “selling” the bogus blend to themselves at discount rates, about 1% qualify for sales commissions, and the dozen or so people who started the whole thing siphon millions of dollars from the peons laboring in their sales network. Bernie Madoff would be proud.
3. 3) Snake oil: the little cure-all that actually could
Of all the popular remedies out there, snake oil probably suffered the most verbal abuse from discontented customers, to the point of becoming a by-word for bad medicine. Oddly enough, while most cure-alls get debunked by science, this one actually got vindicated.
Snake oil, a traditional Chinese remedy, was brought to the United States by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. Originally, it was simply an arthritis and joint pain remedy, and it contained just what it said on the tin: 蛇油, the oil of Chinese water snakes mixed in with relatively inert carrier material. This medicine was supposedly so effective that every quack and conman in the United States who wanted to get rich selling patent medicine called it “snake oil.” At first, these concoctions contained actual snake oil, albeit now from American snakes, but by the 20th century a tin of supposed snake oil could be expected to contain mostly mineral oil, red pepper and turpentine. By that point, people forgot all about the original, effective snake oil and transferred all their anger at its useless knock-offs at the term itself.
However, if you go to China, or even to Chinatown, and pick up a tin of snake oil to put on your joints, you will probably be pleasantly surprised. It turns out that the oil made from the fat of Chinese water snakes contains about 20% eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid that the body can absorb through the skin and use to control inflammation. Rattlesnakes which would have supplied the earlier American knock-offs of snake oil, have about 8.5%. Salmon oil contains 18%. Besides reducing inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids also improve cognitive function, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and even alleviate depression. In short, snake oil got a bum rap.
Author:A.M. Lorenz — Copyrighted © roadtickle.com
In case you’ve missed the first part of this article, you can find it here.