Showing posts with label Snake Oil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Snake Oil. Show all posts

Nov 1, 2013

What's in a Name, Snake Oil

Snake oil is now a generic term meaning a substance with no medicinal value sold as a remedy for physical ailments. The term most likely comes from the use of oil derived from Chinese water snakes as a topical lotion. Chinese immigrants working on the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s would use it to alleviate joint pain. This ancient Chinese remedy was laughed at by other medicine salesmen, who called it a scam. In time, the term “snake oil” developed a negative connotation.

In the mid-1980s, a California psychiatrist named Richard Kunin decided to explore the question if snake oil was quackery or was it a legitimate treatment for joint pain, like the Chinese laborers claimed it was. He shared his findings in a 1989 letter to the Western Journal of Medicine.

Snake oil, especially the oil from the fatty tissue found in Chinese water snakes was unusually high in omega-3 fats. Kunin concluded, this meant that it could actually do what its advocates claimed, "snake oil is a credible anti-inflammatory agent and might confer therapeutic benefits. Since essential fatty acids are known to absorb transdermally, it is not far-fetched to think that inflamed skin and joints could benefit by the actual anti-inflammatory action of locally applied oil just as the Chinese physicians and our medical quacks have claimed.”

Kunin believed that snake oil actually worked. Subsequent research suggests that he was right. Unfortunately, while Kunin’s conclusions are mostly correct, there is one significant omission. The Chinese snake oil came from water snakes, which, perhaps coincidentally fed on fish which themselves contained high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. American-sold snake oil came from rattlesnakes, which do not have anywhere nearly the omega-3 amounts needed to provide the promised therapeutic benefits.

Oct 7, 2011

What's in a Name, Soapbox

I tend to be a bit outspoken on many more subjects that I should and sometimes hear my friends say, "Oh, he is on his soapbox again." Of course, that just makes me talk faster and louder. Ha.

Younger folks have no idea where that saying comes from. The term originates from the days when speakers would elevate themselves above the crowd by standing on a wooden crate originally used for shipment of soap or other dry goods. A person would stand on the box to make an impromptu speech, often about religion, politics, or any other topic about which they wanted to have their opinion heard.

Many times hucksters would get on their soapbox to sell any number of things from snake oil and wonder potions to books. Central Parks were favorite public areas to get on your soapbox and be heard in the days before television and the internet.

Today's equivalent of a soapbox is a blog, or facebook, or twitter, etc. and soap is no longer shipped in wooden crates. Some of us send out regular 'soapbox' emails to anyone willing to 'listen'. Please don't throw rotten tomatoes.

BTW, the original soapbox derby encouraged the use of soap boxes and orange crates to make the cars. Also, 'snake oil salesman' is a derogatory term for people who sell quack medicine or any product with exaggerated marketing, but questionable quality or benefit. I'll bite my tongue on further commentary about that.