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Snake Oil, and Traditional Medicine's Move from Disrespect to Redemption

  [ 22 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Sayer Ji • • September 19, 2012

Nutrition research writer Sayer Ji is founder and chair of – a consumer advocacy site offering 'the world’s largest natural medicine database,’ with a searchable index linking to more than 19,000 biomedical study abstracts. This article, first published June 3, 2012, is reproduced with kind permission from Sayer Ji. ©2012 all rights reserved.

"Snake oil" - a denigrating term often used to cast doubt on those advocating natural healing solutions.


Confirmed: Snake Oil Works Better Than Pharma Pills

Research Confirms Snake Oil Works Better than Pharmaceutical DrugsSayer Ji

For many centuries the Chinese used snake oil as a treatment for joint pain, arthritis and bursitis. They brought this folk remedy with them when they arrived in the US in the mid-1800's to build the Transcontinental Railroad. That was backbreaking work. Synthetic pain-killers such as aspirin were not yet freely available.

When the Chinese workers offered their remedy to Westerners as a palliative it was likely perceived to be a "primitive" form of "quackery" by the medical experts of that time. This is one probable origin of the derogatory meaning of the word "snake oil."

The ironic thing about modern pharmaceutical "snake oil," i.e., petrochemical-derived and patented synthetic chemicals, is that they often have considerably less value than a placebo, and in certain cases may not even compare in therapeutic value to actual snake oil.

To prove the point, below are listed four remarkable studies, as cited on the National Library of Medicine's bibliographic database known as Medline ( referring to the potential therapeutic properties of sea snake and boa constrictor lipids - snake oil! - for inflammation and infection....

Boa constrictor oil has potent anti-inflammatory and significant antimicrobial activity against S. aureus and S. pyrogenes
Pubmed Data : 1: Acta Pol Pharm. 2008 Jul-Aug;65(4):477-80.
Article Published Date : Jul 01, 2008
Study Type : Human Study

Erabu sea snake oil has a beneficial effect on plasma glucose in diabetic mice
Pubmed Data : 1: Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(5):425-32. Epub 2006 Jul 17.
Article Published Date : Jan 01, 2006
Study Type : Animal Study

Erabu sea snake oil improves the swimming endurance of aged mice by attenuating lactate production and enhancing lactate clearance
Pubmed Data : 1: J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2007 Dec;53(6):476-81.
Article Published Date : Dec 01, 2007
Study Type : Animal Study
Additional Links
Substances : Snake Lipids : CK(15) : AC(4)

The fat from the boa constrictor has an inhibitor effect on keloid and normal dermal fibroblasts, which may contribute to the inhibition of scarring
Pubmed Data : 1: Br J Plast Surg. 1990 Mar;43(2):183-6.
Article Published Date : Mar 01, 1990
Study Type : In Vitro Study

[And in 1989 when RA Kunin analyzed Chinese water snake oil, he found for one thing it contained 20% EPA - even more of this omega-3 oil than is found in salmon.]

We don't, of course, advocate consuming snake oil when other powerful, natural anti-inflammatory fats are readily available from less sentient sources:

•  Flaxseed oil, for instance.

•  Or, if you are really interested in the topic, here are 223 natural substances with demonstrable anti-inflammatory activity, many of which are foods, nutrients, spices and herbs.

The point here is that when age-old invectives like "snake-oil" are hurled at those advocating natural approaches to healing by those who would claim synthetic chemicals are the only "real" or evidence-based alternatives, the "insult" itself reveals a subconscious acknowledgement that practically all things produced by Nature have medicinal value.

Let's look closer at another example of purported "snake oil": the traditional practice among the Maori and Chinese of eating earthworms to settle an upset stomach. Long considered an obscene, disgusting, "folk medicine" practice, these 3 scientific studies tell quite a different story:

Earthworm paste has antioxidant and antiulcer properties superior to the drug ranitidine
Pubmed Data : Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2007 Jan-Feb;11(1):9-15.
Article Published Date : Jan 01, 2007
Study Type : Animal Study

Earthworm paste has gastroprotective properties and is superior to the drug ranitidine in preventing experimentally induced gastric ulcer
Pubmed Data : Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2010 Mar;14(3):171-6.
Article Published Date : Mar 01, 2010
Study Type : Animal Study

Earthworm powder has antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties against alcohol-induced toxicity in rats
Pubmed Data : Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2008 Jul-Aug;12(4):237-43.Article Published Date : Jul 01, 2008
Study Type : Animal Study

In the first two studies, earthworms are shown superior to Ranitidine as an anti-ulcer, gastroprotective agent. Ranitidine is a chemical which blocks the H2-histamine receptors in the parietal cells in the stomach that produce hydrochloric acid, and is sold under the trade name Zantac.

Until Zantac lost its patent in 1997, global sales reached $1.6 billion annually. And yet despite these blockbuster sales, its value as a "medicine" compares poorly to the consumption of creatures that live beneath our feet, and who also, incidentally, make possible all the food we consume through their indispensable role in producing fecund soil. [See also “Water extinguishes stomach acid 175x Faster Than Some Drugs.”]

So which is the "snake-oil," the infatuated object of "quackery"?

• Synthetic chemicals excreted by a vast petrochemical-medical-industrial complex, and re-purposed and repackaged to the consumer as "medicines"?

• Or natural substances and organisms traditionally used as food-medicines, sometimes for thousands of years before the advent of modern, scientism- and drug-driven medicine?

Just for the record, I won't be eating worms any time soon.

But given the choice between a chemical, with no biological or evolutionary precedent in my body, and an earthworm or sip of actual snake oil, I will gladly choose the latter.

Be sure to check out the other 40 instances of research showing Science confirming Traditional Medicine from around the world.

Disclaimer: This information (©2012 All Rights Reserved) has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is general information, based on the research of Sayer Ji unless otherwise noted; and does not necessarily reflect the views of GreenMedInfo or its staff, or that of ProHealth, Inc. It is not intended as medical advice, or for prevention, diagnosis or treatment for any condition, illness or disease; and is not meant to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional. It is always very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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