Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Duck Ages of Folk Medicine: The Good, the Bad, and the Quacks

There I was minding my own business, doing my talk show host thing with my guest wonderful John Milandred, and then the cruelty happened... The technological universe decided to chew up my broadcast and spit it out like a leftover burrito. It was almost as if the botnet of the evil underworld attacked our stream. (Image refers to the book "Slow Death by Rubber Duck" that can be found on

Fortunately, after the whining, belly aching, and beating the computer like a red-headed stepchild in an alien family, my show was saved by Ed Corcoran, the founder of Survivalist Magazine, whom stepped in like a technology superhero. He jumped on the air, covering the broadcast silence with his talk show host expertise. (Ed is the host of the exceptionally rated The Complete Survivalist Show which airs 7 pm to 8:30 pm central time on KPRN-DB the Prepper Podcast Radio Network. You can find out more information on this tech hero on

Anyway enough about the technology gliches and hero talk show hosts, I've got a lot of folk medicine to talk about. Due to the infraction of the technology demons, we lost a bit of valuable time on air and I wasn't able to cover the amount of folk remedies that I had hoped to. (Granted, it was fun having both John and Ed on at the same time, bashing each other like two conquistadors fighting over the prize gold: my audience. ;). My listeners are the best.)

Before I begin describing the best and worst of folk medicine, I'm going to take a tiny detour to discuss the history of advances in medicine.

The History of Medical Stubborn Blindness

I know what you're thinking: "A history lesson? Nooooo!" Oh, come on. You know you love history. Besides, this is all about how medical professionals can be so pigheaded and dumb, when they think they know everything. Everyone loves a good medical community bashing. I'm a doctor and I eagerly get out the sticks looking for the medical pinnata. ;)

Just so you know as if you haven't already guessed, there is a stubborn tendancy within the medical establishment to ridicule its own members if they present ideas different from the mainstream. Oh yeah, its all about the jealousy. Because a lot of those scorned by the medical community tend to be the fathers of true medical advances. Yep, the green-eyed monster strikes again.

A brilliant physiologist named William Harvey was one of the most prominent men ridiculed in this manner. He was the personal physician to King james I. Yep, they definitely hated him. In 1628, he discovered the true circulation of blood. Before him, all medical beliefs on the body's blood circulation came from a dinosaur physician named Claudius Galen (birth 129 AD to 199 AD), whom argued that arteries were just to cool the blood and the heart was the major heat source of which the lungs "fanned" it and discharged "vapors" through the skin. Yeah, there you have it: the heart of our home is the microwave, according to pre-Harvey medicine. This ideology stated that there were two separate blood circulations: the Natural System being the venous blood flow and the Spirit System which was the arterial.

Harvey argued that the flow of blood traveled through the body as if in a circuit, connecting both the venous and arterial systems. For this discovery, he was humiliated and mocked. And it wasn't until after his death, that the medical community of the time finally accepted his discovery as fact.

On my show last night, we discussed the situation surrounding Hungarian-Austrian physician, Dr. Ignaz Semmelwiess (1818-1865). During his lifetime, upwards of 20 to 30% of women and children died during and shortly after childbirth. This was believed to be due to something called "childbed fever" or "puerperal fever," which led to septicemia and death. One of the members of the Clostridium family of bacteria is often accredited with this condition.

He discovered that his medical students that came directly from performing autopsies on mothers that died of puerperal fever to deliver babies from healthly mothers without washing their hands, had higher rates of death among their patients.

So Dr. Semmelweiss argued that doctors should wash their hands between patients. He even went so far as to develop a chlorine wash: a little rough for today's standards of antiseptic handwashes, but still effective. The medical community went for a WWF smackdown on his reputation, ridiculing him to the point of destruction. Heaven forbid that doctors should have to wash their hands! The punk beastards drove Dr. Semmelweiss to a mental breakdown where he died in an insane asylum. All because they were stubborn and didn't want to change what they felt was the standard of medical care. Only years after he died did Dr. Semmelweiss's physician hand hygeine become recognized as an essential advancement in medicine.

The use of nitric oxide in dental work and the use of vitamins in the treatment of diseases and the prevetion of diseases were also met with the same vehement disgust by men too stubborn to look past their own noses.

The moral of the story: Medical advances are always ridiculed by those who are too stupid to realize that something different might just be worth looking into.

Most of the folk remedies that are scientifically proven are still seen as subjects of ridicule by many in the medical community. Granted, there are many old folk remedy wives' tales that should remain just tales, but the remedies that actually work are often lumped in with the quackery as though the modern medical community can't get rid of the stubbornness of their predecessors. Thus the cycle of persecution and unwillingness to investigate different avenues of medicine perpetuates.

Folk Medicine: Fact, Fiction, and Flat Out Quackery

Okay, I know, I should start with the factual evidence behind many folk remedies, but I so have to tell you about some of the funnest quackeries I have ever heard of. I know. I know. You want to refer me to the history of stubborn medical people that I just wrote.... but seriously, you are going to love these ones.

Goose poop for treatment of pimples. I discussed this one on the air. Mmmm mmm mmm! Now, that's a facial mask that brings a whole new meaning to "getting to the bottom of the problem." Fact, pimples are caused by bacteria and oil glands that like to have a party together. Second fact, poop is full of bacteria, most of which is extremely harmful.

This idea comes from the age old wives' tale that dog dung was a good treatment for inflammation and wounds. Yep, some brilliant person in the dark ages decided that rolling around in dog feces would cure everything from baldness to the plague. Another good reason why those times were called the dark ages.

I'm beginning to think that it all started like this:
A nobleman stepped in a big pile of steaming dog poo.

A noblewoman whom he was trying to court sniffed the air and asked, "What foul smell is thus?"

Nobleman lies, as do all those trying to score a chick: "'Tis... uh... um... my medicine for knight's foot. All that jousting needs a... ah... potent medicine, milady." (Yeah, potent as in poo. And thus started the dog dung fad.)

Clipping toenails for a year will cure asthma. This one was perpetuated in the 1800s. This might come from "the toenail bone is connected to the lung bone." LOL. Okay, for the record there is no toenail bone and no lung bone, and contrary to popular belief they are not connected that directly as for toenail clipping to treat asthma.

Biting into a live black or rattlesnake will ensure good teeth and prevent toothache. I love that one. I wonder how much the live snake will appreciate that "remedy." I think it is self-explanatory as to why it fits into the quackery realm.

A sty in the eye can be cured by rubbing it with a live black cat's tail. Now, we got to appreciate the live black animals motif in these folk fakeries. Do you think the cat will be obliging to this quackery?

Okay, enough of the fun quackeries. Now onto the folk remedies that actually work.

Prickly-ash tree bark for oral analgesic. The Prickly-ash tree, also called Zanthoxylum americanum, is a shrub/tree that bears throny branches, aromatic leaves, and a seriously kicking analgesic bark.

As John Milandred said on the Little Prepper Doc show, Native Americans have been using prickly-ash tree bark for toothaches, stomach aches, and inflammation. John indicated that taking an inch of the bark and popping the bitter crud into your mouth produces a numbing effect greater than that of novocaine.

The science behind this is that the bark contains active chemicals such as tannins, ligins, coumarins, and alkaloids. Tannins for example have been proven in studies to have antiinflammatory, mild analgesic, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. Ash tree bark is contraindicated in pregrancy, nursing mothers, and those that have intestinal or stomach ulcers.

A good recipe for prickly-ash tree bark tea is to simmer 1 to 2 tsps (or 5 to 10 grams) of crushed bark in water for 15 minutes or to chew the bark uncooked to relieve tooth pain.

Maggots as a natural form of debridement. The little disgusting wormy fly larvae are the best natural form of debridement in existence. The nasty little critters eat only dead and diseased tissue leaving the healthy living tissue behind. A good story of this was a homeless man came into the ER for foot pain. The doctor looked down at his foot and saw a moving boot of squirming maggots. After almost losing his lunch, the doctor bravely sends in the nurses to clean off the man's leg and give him a good shower. Once the maggots were removed, the tissue left behind on the foot was clean and healthy. The maggots had done their work, preventing gangrene from setting in.

Poultices. The variations in poultices is as broad as an elephant's boxer shorts. Hot oatmeal poultice was used to draw foreign objects out of the skin that are unobtainable by tweezers. Mustard chest poultice is a combination of crushed mustard seed and water (enough to make a paste) with a 4 to 1 parts flour. Place it on the chest of a respiratory patient, changing it every six hours. It has been shown to help in the lymphatic flow of fluid out of the lungs.

Meat tenderizer poultice is a combination of meat tenderizer powder and spit or water to make a paste that is used for sting relief in bee stings. The enzymes in the meat tenderizer breakdown the proteins in bee and wasp stings. Ed Corcoran indicated that honey also can be used for sting relief.

Onions to avoid viral illnesses. One of the interesting findings was that the onion farmers that would sleep a bag of onions next to their beds never came down with the Spanish influenza. Instead, the virus was found in the onions that they slept with. Mmmm.... some people prefer wives, these guys preferred onions. On a more serious note, onions were known for their "drawing power" in folk medicine. In actuality, onions have superb air filtration properties, which collect airborne viral particles, pulling them from the air.

Living the pioneer life. John Milandred, the founder of Pioneer Living, actually practices what he preaches. He lives in a pioneer-style environment without the "technological essentials" of microwaves, plastics, and gas stoves that the rest of us can't live without. He also organically grows his own fruits and vegetables, as well as eats pure and healthy foods. Some people call him an alien because he never gets sick. He has no idea of what the flu is like because he has never had it, nor has he ever taken any vaccinations for it either.

On the opposite hand, environmental researchers Rick Smith, who is the executive director of Environmental Defense in Canada, and Bruce Lourie who is the President of the Ivery Foundation have proven that living the modern-day life might not be so healthy.

In their book, Slow Death By Rubber Duck, Smith and Lourie spend four-days in a "technology-rich" environment eating only foods microwaved in plastic containers, out of cans, and cooked in teflon-coated pans, living on flame-retardant coated furnishings, and enjoying the comforts of synthetic carpets. Prior to their four-day excursion into a surburban condo, the two men had their blood and urine levels of 7 different toxic chemicals measured for baseline. After the four-days, they were measured again to see if the levels of toxins had increased. Sure enough they had tripled and in the case of one chemical known as triclosan, it had multiplied by nearly 2,900.

After the 24-hours of the tuna-eating mercury test, Bruce Lourie started experiencing early symptoms of mercury toxicity such as severe irritability, loss of memory, and anxiety. According to their book, he didn't remember much of that day, which is charcteristic of mercury poisoning. Also his blood results revealed that his blood mercury level had increased far above the "safe" zone indicated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

So there is something to be said about the folk remedy of natural and organic living.

It looks like it is time for me to go.

If you didn't get a chance to listen to the Little Prepper Doc show live on Friday, Nov 4th 2011, you can still listen to it on

Thank you and TTFN.