by Jamie Waddell
We like to think that living in the scientifically enlightened twenty-first century means the end of superstitious hokum and crack-pot medical theories. But we’d be wrong. We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most bizarre traditional remedies that the world has to offer. Do any of them hold scientific merit?
1. Bee Sting Therapy – You Better Believe it
I’m no stranger to imbibing a honey and lemon concoction form to cure my sore throat, but the idea of willingly being stung by a bee doesn’t hold quite the same appeal. Firstly, the poor bee leaves his guts attached to the stinger which, unsurprisingly, kills the little blighter. Secondly, venom’s bad, right?
The history of using bee venom is a varied one, utilized all across the ancient world. The greatest societies in history: Greece, Egypt and China all swore by the curative powers of bee venom. Are you really going to doubt the ancient Egyptians?
Now, I’m not volunteering or anything, but modern scientific study has shown that bee sting therapy can help those suffering from wasting diseases like multiple sclerosis.
Pat Wagner was diagnosed with MS in 1970, and for 22 years she found little relief from the heaps of medications prescribed to her. Then, in 1992, she decided to take the drastic measure of this obscure therapy. She willingly had, wait for it, 200 bee stings in one sitting! The results, she said, were almost instant: within a couple of hours she no longer felt cold; within a couple of days she had a noticeable increase in energy; and within a couple of weeks she regained the hearing in her right ear.
2. Turtle Power!
Despite living in filthy swamps and carrying salmonella, the terrapin is held in high esteem by the people of Cambodia.
The evidence for the medicinal benefits of terrapins is purely anecdotal. There is nothing to suggest that the touch of a terrapin can cure rheumatism, acne, or any of the ailments that the people of Cambodia claim.
Before you laugh at the customs of another nation, remember that there are still plenty of westerners who believe that toads give you warts. They don’t, it’s a fairytale.
3. It’s the Eye of the Tiger
No lead in your pencil? No wind in your sail? Little soldier refusing to stand to attention? Despite the many lighthearted euphemisms, erectile dysfunction can of course be a seriously damaging condition for a man’s self-esteem.
But take a moment to think of the poor tiger, whose eyes and penis bone (baculum) are removed and used to cure impotence and virility problems in China. That can’t be good for their self-confidence.
The tiger has long been traditional Chinese medicine’s majestic walking pharmacy. The tiger’s nose is taken for epilepsy, the tail for skin diseases and powdered tiger bones for arthritis muscle conditions.
China’s population more than tripled during the 20th century. Is it down to the miraculous power of tiger penis? Doubtful, and with current worldwide tiger numbers estimated to be around 3,200 it might be time for Chinese men to look for a different means of floating their boat.
4. Just a load of hot air
The technique of fire cupping has been around for thousands of years, with archaeologists having discovered evidence that it was practiced as much as 3000 years ago.
It involves creating a vacuum of fire-heated air between the patient’s body and a bell-shaped glass cup. Whilst not quite as insane a number as bee sting therapy, around 12 of these cups can be used in a single treatment.
Popular across Asia, fire cupping is used to treat arthritis, congestion and even depression.
No clinical trial has ever found that fire cupping can provide any form of pain relief or serves any medicinal purpose. Any relief is purely psychosomatic.
5. Tip the Scales
This impressive looking beast is the proud pangolin. Looking like an armadillo on steroids, the pangolin is native to tropical regions of Africa and Asia.
Unfortunately for the pangolin, its scales (a unique adaptation amongst mammals) are believed to cure all sorts of ailments, from promoting lactation, reducing swelling and even resisting cancer.
International trade in pangolins has been banned by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) since 2000, but illegal trade still carries on unabated in China and Vietnam. The illegality of the trade in the scales and meat of the pangolin making them an expensive status symbol.
Most sadly, the pangolin’s scales hold no medicinal benefit whatsoever. Made of keratin, the same substance as human hair and fingernails, they are becoming endangered simply for having an ostentatious adaptation.
6. Dr. Maggot M.D.
Another stomach-turner, this ancient practice involves the application of disinfected fly larvae to treat wounds which are failing to heal. Often referred to as just larvae therapy, the larvae are applied to the wound and are kept there for around three days in a special dressing that prevents them from escaping. During this time the maggots begin eating away at the patient’s flesh.
Unlike many of the entries on this list, you’ve probably already heard of this treatment. That’s because it actually works. The maggots not only spped up the rate at which the wound heals, but eat away infected tissue, kill bacteria and thus clean the wound.
In Hyderabad, India, the Bathini Goud Brothers offer their famous Bathini Fish Medicine free of charge to anyone suffering from asthma. The family have been doing this for over 160 years since Somalingam Goud was given the secret recipe by a Hindu holy man.
The recipe has been kept top secret since that day, as the family believe that revealing it would cause imitators to begin charging for the treatment and the medicine would lose its magical powers.
The bizarre aspect of this treatment is how it is administered. A small murrel fish is fed the medine and then inserted into the patient’s mouth whilst it is still alive. This live fish, wagging its tail and fins, swims down the patient’s throat and allegedly clears the phlegm that is causing the patient’s distress.
Under pressure from doctors around the world, the family freely gave the medicine for scientific analysis in 2004. Although no medicinal quaIities were observed there were also no harmful ingredients in the concoction.
8. Sand in your pants
People in the Siwa Oasis, an area northwest of Cairo believe that being buried alive in sand in the baking heat of the desert can cure rheumatism and sexual impotency.
It doesn’t. It just makes you really hot.
9. Up and Atom!
I was under the impression that being blasted by radiation isn’t ideal for one’s well-being.
Apparently this is not a worry for the people of the Czech Republic, with 20,000 Czechs traveling to the small town of Jachymov every year to submerge themselves in radioactive water. The water itself is run off from a nearby uranium mine, and they believe that it can cure arthritis. I imagine it would be less effective for impotency.
But this is no folk remedy. No, they’ve built a lavish spa around the radioactive waters. Crazy
10. On the right track
Another folk remedy without an ancient history, the people of Indonesia have taken to lying on train tracks to cure pretty much every disease in the book. This trend kicked off after a man reportedly recovered from a stroke by regularly laying himself down on the tracks. This happened 2 years ago. People have swarmed to train yards across the islands, believing that minor shocks from the rails are medicinal.
Author Bio: Jamie Waddell is a science and pharmaceuticals writer based in London and employed by Chemist Direct. When he’s not dreaming about having his very own pet pangolin you’ll find him writing about the latest drugs research breakthroughs and athletics doping scandals.