Snake Oil – Enhydris chinensis

There is, in fact, such a thing as “snake oil”

Snake oil is a traditional Chinese medicine made from the Chinese Water Snake (Enhydris chinensis), which is used to treat joint pain. However, the most common usage of the phrase is as a derogatory term for quack medicine. The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with exaggerated marketing but questionable and/or unverifiable quality or benefit.


Snake oil originally came from China. There, it was used as a remedy for inflammation and pain in rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, and other similar conditions. Snake oil is still used as a pain reliever in China. Fats and oils from snakes are higher in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) than other sources. Snake oil is still sold in traditional Chinese pharmacy stores.
Snake fat also played a role in ancient Egyptian medicine, mixed with the fats of lion, hippopotamus, crocodile, tomcat, and Nubian ibex into a homogeneous mass believed to cause bald men to grow hair.
Chinese labourers on railroad gangs involved in building the Transcontinental Railroad to link North America coast to coast gave snake oil to Europeans with joint pain. When rubbed on the skin at the painful site, snake oil was claimed to bring relief. This claim was ridiculed by rival medicine salesmen, especially those selling patent medicines. In time, snake oil became a generic name for many compounds marketed as panaceas or miraculous remedies whose ingredients were usually secret, unidentified, or mis-characterized and mostly inert or ineffective, although the placebo effect and liberal quantities of alcohol might provide some relief for whatever the problem might have been.
Patented remedies originated in England, where a patent was granted to Richard Stoughton’s Elixir in 1712. Since there was no federal regulation in the USA concerning safety and effectiveness of drugs until the 1906 Food and Drugs Act and various medicine salesmen or manufacturers seldom had enough skills in analytical chemistry to analyze the contents of snake oil, it became the archetype of hoax. American snake fats have EPA contents markedly lower than those of the Chinese water snake. Thus, the American snake oils were even less effective in relieving joint pain than the original Chinese snake oil, further promoting the hoax stereotype.[citation needed]
The snake oil peddler became a stock character in Western movies: a travelling “doctor” with dubious credentials, selling some medicine (such as snake oil) with boisterous marketing hype, often supported by pseudo-scientific evidence, typically bogus. To increase sales, an accomplice in the crowd (a shill) would often “attest” the value of the product in an effort to provoke buying enthusiasm. The “doctor” would prudently leave town before his customers realized that they had been cheated. This practice is also called “grifting” and its practitioners are called “grifters”.
The practice of selling dubious remedies for real (or imagined) ailments still occurs today, albeit with some updated marketing techniques. Claims of cures for chronic diseases (for example, diabetes mellitus) for which there are reputedly only symptomatic treatments available from evidence-based medicine are especially common. The term snake oil peddling is used as a derogatory term to describe such practices.

Composition of snake oil
Snake oil tablets on sale at a market in Marrakech
The composition of snake oil medicines varies markedly between products.
Snake oil sold in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1989 was found [4] to contain:
75% mostly unidentified carrier material, including camphor
25% oil from Chinese water snakes, itself consisting of:
20% eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – an omega-3 fatty acid
48% myristic acid (14:0)
10% stearic acid (18:0)
14% oleic acid (18:1?9)
7% linoleic acid (18:2?6) plus arachidonic acid (20:4?6)
The Chinese water snake (Enhydris chinensis) is the richest known source of EPA, the starting material the body uses to make the series 3 prostaglandins. These prostaglandins are the biochemical messengers that control some aspects of inflammation, rather like aspirin, which also affects the prostaglandin system. Like essential fatty acids, EPA can be absorbed through the skin. Salmon oil, the next best source, contains 18% EPA. Rattlesnake oil contains 8.5% EPA.
Stanley’s snake oil—produced by Clark Stanley, the “Rattlesnake King”—was tested by the United States government in 1917. It was found[2] to contain:
mineral oil
1% fatty oil (presumed to be beef fat)
red pepper
turpentine
camphor


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detox, diet, dieting, health, healthy, herbs, minerals, snake oil

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