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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

12 Health Fads That Never Made It

When it comes to our health, we're often ready to try almost any new potion that even a complete stranger suggests. Often many of these quick-fixes turn out to be baseless, and the so-called cures have only a placebo effect.

Here are 12 health fads that ‘fad-ed’ away with time. Some did not do what they claimed to do. Others were in fact bad for your health!

1. Bee Venom


Bee venom therapists apply bee venom to specific points on the surface of the body. The natural sting of the bee was believed to cure a wide variety of diseases including arthritis, multiple sclerosis, tendonitis, fibromyalgia, and even breast cancer.

There are several testimonials from people who claim to have been benefited from bee stings. A woman claims her rheumatoid arthritis was reversed after she got 80 stings every other day. The practice is particulalry strong in China where about 3,000 private clinics provided treatments to more than 230 million people in 2005.

  • FACT: If you’ve ever been stung by a bee, you already have first-hand experience of how painful it can be. While the potential benefits of the therapy are still uncertain, the dangers are clear. Many people have allergic reactions. A person with a severe reaction to bee venom may get hives on skin, and swelling of the lips, eyes, throat and tongue. There may be vomiting, slurring of speech, mental confusion and even breathing difficulties. “It’s alternative medicine and has no basis in western medical science... I would doubt its efficacy,” Professor Christopher Lam, a chemical pathologist at the Chinese University in Hong Kong said.

2. Blood-group diets

Celebrities like Liz Hurley made the Blood Type diet one of the most talked about health fads. The diet meant people with blood type B should avoid corn, wheat, lentils, tomatoes, chicken, peanuts and sesame seeds, and they should eat goat, mutton, venison, eggs, green vegetables, and low fat dairy.

Your blood type was defined by your ancestors - so for example - type A blood groups are descended from farmers, so they should avoid meat and dairy and stick to being vegetarians. If you are type B, your ancestors were nomads, so meals should be of red meat and fish. Type O, you are descended from hunter-gatherers, so eat lots of animal protein with few carbohydrates and don't forget to exercise energetically. If you have AB blood group you will suffer most of the benefits and intolerances of both blood groups.

But does sticking to a diet specific to your blood type actually work?

  • FACT: Experts say there is no science to back this. Cutting down on any particular group of food could result in an unbalanced diet with a low intake of certain important nutrients. Anything that promotes the restriction or avoidance of whole food groups should ring alarm bells.

3. Tapeworm Diet

Tapeworm diet pills were marketed in the early part of the 20th century. The practice involved swallowing beef tapeworm eggs and then taking a medicine to kill the tapeworm after reaching your target weight. Image

The tapeworm secretes proteins in the intestinal tract that make digestion of food much less efficient. A less efficient digestive system means that you can consume more calories since your 'guest' is also using them.

  • FACT: The practice was both ineffective and unhealthy. Imagine encouraging a parasite in your body to suck all the nutritional value from your food! In addition eating habits weren't changed so it's likely that you would regain the weight after the worms were gone. Voluntarily ingesting a tapeworm to lose weight is legally a difficult thing to pull off, not to mention dangerous. The FDA has intervened and banned these unsubstantiated and dangerous products.

4. Placenta Drinks

A number of health and beauty products marketed by Japanese firms claimed to contain pig placenta or ‘afterbirth’ as the active ingredient.

Image The placenta products came as beverages, capsules, organic skin cream, wearable facial mask, and…er…placenta drinks and jellies!

The products claimed to ‘give tired lacklustre skin a nonsurgical face lift.’ Its proponents swear by its regenerative, anti-aging properties. They also claim it is a great weight loss booster and a natural cure to post-delivery depression.

So, are you ready for a pig placenta face mask for pink, kissable cheeks? Or a placenta cocktail for a great figure!

FACT: Is placenta truly an anti-ager? Not according to the FDA.

5. Ear Candling or Ear Coning

A long hollow tapering cone of muslin coated with wax is inserted into the ear and lit to create a vacuum.

Photograph: Roxana Marroquin

Its advocates claimed it treated hearing problems, headaches, migraine, sinusitis, rhinitis, and hay fever. Apparently the candle acts on the 'energetic level' and can also detoxify you and treat all sorts of ailments unconnected with your ear.

  • FACT: There have been reports of external burns, ear canal obstruction with candle wax and of perforated ear drums. No ear wax is removed by the procedure. A study published in the journal Laryngoscope found no proof that ear candles produce a vacuum or result in the removal of earwax.

  • Michael Godin, an ear, nose and throat doctor at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary adamantly opposes ear candling. “It’s a gimmick,” he says. “It’s a therapeutic procedure that is done with no scientific or clinical basis—there’s no basic way to check to see if the treatment even does what it claims.”

6. Oxygenated water

‘Oxygenated water’ claimed to detoxify blood, enhance sports performance, and improve heart and muscle functions. Obviously, it became a craze among sportspersons.

  • FACT: But a study reported in JAMA (2003; 290:2408-2409) showed that a single breath of air contained more oxygen than a bottle of oxygenated water. Just taking a deep breath was found to be better.

7. Mesotherapy

During the 1950s, women took multiple injections of several substances such as pharmaceutical and homeopathic products, vitamins, plant extracts etc. just under the skin to treat cellulite and as a pain relief therapy.

Mesotherapy Gun

Although mesothrapy is still practiced today there is no conclusive research to prove that these chemical compounds work to target fat.

  • FACT: No one knows exactly what was put into the syringe. Phoshatidylcholine, a drug often used for this purpose, can cause serious reactions and has been banned in a number of South American countries. Studies showed mesotherapy caused skin lesions and irritation and could result in prolonged skin infections.

8. Breatherianism

Its believers claimed food and water are not necessary and humans can survive only on prana (the vital life force) and sunlight. The Breatherian Institute of America also promoted this age-old practice performed by eastern ascetics.

  • FACT: Common sense and basic science both refute this one.

9. Detox Foot Baths

Simply putting your feet into a bath of salt water and activating a mouse sized device was believed to clean the body internally! Image

  • FACT: What actually happened was the iron electrodes in the bath rapidly corroded due to electrolysation of the water. Rust accumulated turning the water yellow and then brown. The scum that you might see at the top was made of insoluble iron precipitates - and not the toxins from your body.

  • You would see the same "toxic" substances discoloring the water, without you actually having to put your feet into it!

10. Colonics

In the early 90s, John Harvey Kellogg, the founder of the Kellogg cereal company, popularized colonic irrigation to flush out to toxins from the body.

  • FACT: Remember, it can be rather uncomfortable. There have also been reports of serious infections, heart failure, electrolyte imbalance and even bowel perforation. The frequent use of colonics could lead to dependence. You may be unable to go to the bathroom without assistance or have withdrawal symptoms.

  • Colonic cleansing should be done only when medically indicated, such as before radiological endoscopy.

11. Iridology


Iridology is an alternative medicine technique whose proponents believe that patterns, colors, and other characteristics of the iris can be examined to determine information about a patient's systemic health. Iridologists use charts to distinguish between healthy systems and organs in the body and those which are overactive, inflamed, or distressed.

  • FACT: Scientific studies over the past decades reported in JAMA 1979;242(13), Arch Ophthalmol 2000;118:120-121, Journal of Alternative and Complimetary Medicine 2005, 11(3): 515-519 have proven even leading iridologists wrong. A wrong diagnosis can lead to wrong treatment.

12. Spanish Fly

This is a beetle from South Europe. The dried remains of the beetles were at one time believed to be one of the most potent aphrodisiacs. When Spanish fly powder is ingested, the body excretes 'cantharidin' in the urine. This causes intense irritation and burning in the urogenital tract, which then leads to itching and swelling of the genitals. This swelling and burning was once assumed to be sexual arousal and led to the belief that Spanish fly had aphrodisiac qualities


  • FACT: It proved to be one of the most dangerous. The FDA says, ‘Spanish fly is a poison that burns the mouth and throat and can lead to genitourinary infections, scarring of the urethra, and even death’.


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