Friday, May 28, 2010
Creature Feature: Busting Snake Oil.
Does that advertisement for an "as seen on TV" medicine sound too good to be true? Of course it does; television and the internet are the two biggest outlets for what most people would call "snake oil salesmen."
Not all snake oil is fake. The snake that the original snake oil came from, Enhydris chinensis, is a Chinese water snake. Its fat contains compounds that work much like aspirin, dulling pains of all sorts. The second highest source of these oils is salmon. Egypt had a similar composite formula said to cure baldness, as has also been reported from people who eat cobras on a regular basis. Whaddya know, now there are fish oil tablets everywhere.
You know how tuna and salmon have different nutritional values? Same case here. The snakes that American salesman were using were not even water snakes, and had completely different oils in them. This led to American snake oil being BS - or, in medical terms, a placebo. Something with turpentine in it cannot be good for you. Some snake oils contain no snake fat whatsoever.
As I implied above, there are many other medicinal uses for snakes of all shapes and sizes in Asia. Some of you have probably heard about snake wine; essentially, a venomous snake (note: Enhydris chinensis is considered mildly venomous) is immersed in alcohol for a while. The result is considered especially potent, and used in Eastern countries as a cure for sexual impotence. The snake's view as a healer is very different from the snake's reputation in modern Western society.
That merits its own article. I'll get on that after fixing the first logo...X.x