Fad diets, exercise trends, and extreme weight loss methods are constantly making news for their supposed “results”. Who hasn’t flipped through a copy of “The South Beach Diet”, or gone to a hot yoga class, or even tried the juice cleanse of the moment? But no matter how many shortcuts to being healthy the people dream up, the fact remains that the only way to stay in shape, and lead a healthy lifestyle is to eat a balanced diet, and get regular exercise.
But, it seems like the facts are always changing when it comes to what is healthy and what isn’t. There are always the hard and fast rules, like drink lots of water, and eat your vegetables, but sometimes a trend catches on that attracts lots of bandwagon jumpers, and somehow it becomes common knowledge that these things are healthy. We have come a long way when it comes to diet, and a lot of things we used to think were good for us have been revealed as just the opposite. Here are 10 of the craziest things we used to think were good for us.
Radium was discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Currie, and it quickly became a common ingredient in things like toothpaste, hair cream, and even chocolate bars. In the early 20th century, there were also a lot of spas that claimed their “radium-rich waters” were curative. It was soon discovered that continued exposure to radium led to anemia, bleeding gums, and bone cancer. A man named Eben Byers who claimed to drink up to 3 bottles of radioactive water a day, died of multiple radium-induced cancers, and inspired the 1932 Wall Street Journal article, “The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off”. We now know that radium, and radon gas, cause serious healthy problems even with limited exposure.
In the 1950’s, a surgeon named John Prudden published a book called “Sharks Don’t Get Cancer”. Prudden believed that, since a shark’s skeleton is almost 100% cartilage, and they never get cancer, there must be something in the cartilage that fights off cancer. Shark cartilage became a popular supplement in alternative medicine to reduce your chance of getting cancer. Even though Prudden claimed to use animal cartilage to fight cancer, the results of his study have never been repeated, and the idea that sharks don’t get cancer isn’t even accurate, considering there are at least 42 reported cases of sharks with tumors.
Heroin Cough Suppressant
In the late 1980’s, German drug company Bayer promoted heroin and aspirin as cough, cold, and pain remedies. While aspirin may not be much of a surprise, heroin has since been revealed to be a highly addictive drug that often leads to death by overdose. Bayer stopped producing heroin in 1910, when they figured out the addictive qualities and withdrawal symptoms (anxiety, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and spasms) probably weren’t worth getting rid of a mild cough. The US outlawed the production of heroin in 1924.
Bloodletting was a medical procedure that was supposed to relieve people of ailments like pneumonia, fevers, back pain, and headaches. It was based on an ancient system that categorized bodily fluids as “humors” that all had to be balanced to maintain health. The only medical condition bloodletting might help is hypertension, because by reducing blood volume, you also reduce excess pressure. Most patients were affected negatively by the practice, which was the most common medical procedure for over 2000 years. If a patient reported feeling better after being bled, it was usually due to the “placebo effect” and the belief that they would feel better.
In the early 15th Century, tobacco was used by the indigenous people of the New World for everything from disinfecting, relieving headaches, cold, and warding off disease and fatigue. The plant was brought back to Europe and became known as “God’s remedy”, where people starting regularly undergoing “tobacco enemas” until the 19th century. In India, tobacco was even considered good for the teeth, and was often an ingredient in toothpaste, which is ironic if you have ever seen the teeth of someone who has smoked for most of their life. Now, according to the World Health Organization, tobacco in all its forms is the leading cause of preventable death in the world.
In the 1500’s, mercury was used as a treatment for syphilis, which had no other treatment at the time. Patients would rub a mercurial ointment on the sores caused by the disease in the first stages, and generally it was effective, but it was not a cure. Mercury poisoning is known to cause impaired cognitive skills, and extreme damage to the central nervous system that leads to delirium, hallucinations, and suicidal tendencies. Physically, mercury poisoning causes chest pain, and tremors that eventually lead to violent muscle spasms. Now syphilis is treated with penicillin.
Shortcuts to losing weight are as ubiquitous as ever these days, but imagine putting a parasite inside your body on purpose, just to drop a few pounds. The idea is that with a tapeworm stealing half the calories you consume, you will only absorb half of what you eat, and naturally, you will lose weight. If you are willing to put up with side effects like diarrhea, weakness, headaches, and bloating, then the tapeworm diet would be a great alternative to eating healthy and exercising regularly. But unfortunately the tapeworm doesn’t only eat the junk food you don’t want you body to absorb, it also eats vitamins your body needs to function.
In 1940s and 1950s, the lobotomy was seen as a miracle cure for various mental illnesses. They became a popular treatment method because there were no alternatives, and they were seen as a solution to social issues, such as overcrowding in mental institutions, and the increasing cost of taking care of mentally ill patients. The lobotomy is a procedure that severs the brain’s connection to the prefrontal cortex. It was well known that the procedure would destroy not only the mental illness, but also the person’s personality and intellect, but it was considered a necessary sacrifice in many cases. Patients lost all self awareness, inhibitions, and emotional function, and while some adjusted accordingly, many ended up worse off than they were to begin with. After the development of drugs to treat mental illness, the prevalence of lobotomy dropped off considerably.
Not only was cocaine an ingredient in Coca Cola, it was also a common additive to many medicines and drugs due to its euphoric, energizing, and pain relieving effects. Even Sigmund Freud advocated for the positive qualities of cocaine, saying “I take regular doses of it against depression and indigestion, and with the most brilliant of success”. Cocaine is now considered an addictive recreational drug that can lead to periods of insomnia, paranoia, mood swings, and cognitive impairments when taken in high doses. Overdose can lead to cardiac arrest and death.
Vitamin Enhanced Water
Vitamin enhanced flavored waters offer the benefit of hydration (we are supposed to be drinking 8 cups of water a day), with the extra benefit of vitamins. When they first hit shelves, vitamin-enhanced waters were popular because people thought they were getting extra vitamins into their bodies without any effort other than what it would already take to drink a bottle of water. But what people didn’t think about was the amount of added sugar that was included in every bottle. The close to 33 grams of sugar in some brands could lead to more health risks such as diabetes, and obesity, than the health benefits that the vitamins are worth. Probably better to just have a glass of plain old water, no matter how boring it seems.