Over the centuries quacks, charlatans and the seriously misguided have convinced the great and gullible of their potent healing powers and practices. Desperate people
seeking cures, beauty, weight loss and eternal life are often willing to try anything. But while thousands of years of natural remedies certainly have a strong basis in fact, some health claims are outrageous, some are bizarrely true and some are just downright dangerous.
Reducing the risk of cancers are possibly the most popular food-based health claims today. I’m sure pretty much everything at one time or another has been ‘proven’ to cure cancer and then subsequently shown to cause cancer. Red meat will give you bowel cancer – red meat in a healthy balanced diet will reduce the risk of cancer. Too much of it seems to be the problem. Everything in moderation so they say.
In modern times the diseases we seek cures for may have changed, but men and women have always yearned for the holy grail, the fountain of youth, for ageless beauty. How far would you go to look younger? Bathe in a volcanic ash mud bath? Rub your skin with urine? Eat a placenta?
So, are some popular claims fact or fiction, doable or dangerous?
Thatcher, Thatcher milk snatcher! Don’t take the school milk. Scientists in New Zealand have found drinking milk every day in childhood reduces colon cancer chances by 40%. It’s all about calcium and time. Daily consumption over a significant period of time builds up protection and the calcium helps kill cells that lead to cancer.
Finding: fact and doable especially if you are a child. You do not need to live in New Zealand.
An apple a day can reduce risk of colon and breast cancer
More than one a day, raw with the skin on is best. Apples are incredibly rich in nutrients and natural chemicals that have anti-cancer effects. They appear to be the most protective of all fruits. Would apple milkshakes double your chances of keeping cancer at bay? This new take on an old wives tale is based in fact.
Finding: fact and doable, best to wash the skin in case of pesticides which are decidedly dangerous
Baby urine helps keep skin soft and cures acne, rashes
Urine therapy is practised in a variety of ways including drinking your own or an animal’s (such as cow) as well as used topically directly on the skin. It has been claimed to cure absolutely everything. Although urine is a waste product to get rid of toxins in our bodies, it is actually mostly water. A new baby’s wee in particular is fairly clear. Rubbing it on your skin, it is claimed, gets rid of blemishes and gives you smooth glowing skin, but if nappy rash usually comes from leaving your baby’s nappy on too long, how could this work? Urea, you say? Well urea, found in urine, may be used in making beauty products, but it is also used to make fertilisers. There is no medical evidence that it works and if it is mostly water, why not just use water?
Finding: fiction, but doable if you are not queasy or have OCD. It is cheap and you’ll never run out.
Carrots improve eyesight
Carrots do provide a source of Vitamin A which is vital for maintaining good sight, and a lack of it can lead to night blindness. But carrots do not and cannot actually improve your sight. There is a story that during WWII, to hide the use of radar in the interception of enemy planes, the War Office put out a story that observers were eating carrots to improve their night vision. Who would believe that?
Finding: fiction, but doable and no, you will not turn orange.
Bee venom eases arthritis and is anti-aging
Bee venom has anticoagulant and anti-inflammatory properties and stimulates the release of cortisone, all of which can help with rheumatism. Trials in New Zealand (again with the Kiwis) show some relief for sufferers of arthritis. Ongoing studies into its effects on MS are so far inconclusive. It is also used in anti-aging creams. Bee venom can be taken as a pill, given topically or via injections, although true aficionados or cheapskates can just potter around bee hives. Allegedly the Duchess of Cornwall has used a bee venom mask to get rid of her wrinkles.
Finding: fact for arthritis – jury is out on everything else. Can be dangerous if you are allergic to bee stings.
Acai berry burns fat, boosts energy, cures cancer and diabetes
OK, cures cancer? Come on. The Oprah effect, the modern day equivalent of the Midas touch, has led to sky rocketing sales of the Acai berry as the wonder food of recent years. There are no scientific studies that back up any claims, but research has shown that cranberries will help you burn more calories and blueberries are a better antioxidant source.
Finding: fiction but doable if you want to get on the bandwagon.
Eating placenta can minimise post partum depression and enhance energy, promote soft skin and anti-aging and strengthen the immune system
Many women around the world eat the placenta following the birth of their child to help lessen depression and bleeding. You can cook it or in the western world, have it made into capsules for daintier and less conspicuous consumption. Eating your own is ok, but don’t eat someone else’s – the risk of illness carried by blood, such as Hepatitis is high. Some anti-aging products contain pig or sheep placenta as an ingredient to improve your skin. Medical experts say animals eat the placenta for nutrition, however for healthy humans, there is no benefit, some studies have shown however that Vitamin B6 in the placenta can curb depression and reduce stress. Bury it under a tree instead and provide nutrients for the soil.
Finding: possibly fact for new mums, but anti-aging is fiction. Potentially dangerous if you eat someone else’s.
Swallow a tape worm for weight loss
If you were turned off by the thought of eating a placenta, then this idea is not going to float your boat. In fact, this idea is so revolting and crazy it is not hard to fathom just how desperate some people are. Tape worm pills were promoted in the early twentieth century as a weight loss program. The idea was you swallowed a pill of beef tape worm and let the little chap gorge away and when you had loss the desired amount, you took the tape worm cure and got rid of it. While some people do lose weight when they have tape worm, the damage to your body is not worth the loss, which you will probably put back on straight after. There can be great pain depending on where the worm is and how big it is, possible bloating which is not the effect you are after and it can eat the good nutrients you need to keep well. And it is downright disgusting.
Finding: fiction and dangerous. Don’t try this at home
Midge can normally be found writing about weight loss soups, exercise routines and diets.