Pharmaceuticals vs. Natural Remedies – Who Are The Real “Quacks” and “Snake Oil” Salesmen?

June 6th, 2018

By Sayer Ji

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

Who Are The Real “Quacks” and “Snake Oil” Salesmen?

Increasingly popular derogatory invectives like “quack” and “snake oil” actually have deeper historical roots than those who use them are aware of, and which indict the very conventional medical system they have uncritically adopted as the only one worth practicing. 

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.”

On the other hand, the word “quack” as used today came from the German word for “quicksilver,” namely: “quecksilber” It is believed that American dentists shortened it to “quack” to describe the amalgam-hucksters. Quick-silver Associates write “It is sobering to realize that the original “quacks” were dentists who advocated the use of mercury amalgam.” Learn more on this topic by reading “Quacks, Quack Doctors, and Quackery.”

Perhaps the most 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. And that is over and above the fact that their safety is many orders of magnitude lower, with pharmaceuticals known to kill well over 100,000 patients each year in the U.S. even when correctly prescribed.

To prove the point further, 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.

Study: 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.

Study Type: Human Study

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.

Study Type: Animal Study

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.

Study Type: Animal Study

Additional Links: Substances : Snake Lipids : CK(15) : AC(4)

Study: 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.

Study Type: In Vitro Study

NOTE: We don’t, of course, advocate consuming snake oil when other powerful, natural, and far more accessible anti-inflammatory fats are 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 and which are often far more effective and safer than synthetic, chemical-derived pharmaceuticals.

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:

Study: 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.

Study Type: Animal Study

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.

Study Type: Animal Study

Study: Earthworm powder has antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties against alcohol-induced toxicity in rats.

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 dollars 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.

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” at mark ups thousands of times higher than cost? 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 scientific research confirming Traditional Medicine from around the world. And use the GreenMedInfo Research Dashboard for instant access to over 10,000+ different natural health topics all supported by the published, peer-reviewed biomedical and life sciences literature.

Recommended articles by Sayer Ji: 

About the author:

Sayer Ji is the founder of, a reviewer at the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Co-founder and CEO of Systome Biomed, Vice Chairman of the Board of the National Health Federation, and Steering Committee Member of the Global Non-GMO Foundation.

For more, visit and, or sign up for GreenMedInfo’s free e-Newsletter.

© June 3rd, 2018 GreenMedInfo LLC. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of GreenMedInfo LLC. Want to learn more from GreenMedInfo? Sign up for their newsletter here.

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  • Paschn

    W/o a doubt, the pharmaceutical corporations. Am I the only one who deems it “odd” that before this sewer invaded Afghanistan the “evil” Taliban had virtually eliminated the poppy fields?
    the, in come the “compliant” Shabbos Goi in D.C. to send in the troops…. Voila! Poppy production SKY rockets and then, (just another coincidence, nothing more), kosher pharma is flush with cheap opiates and the U.S. is losing hundreds of thousands to death/turmoil via what? ready? a bona fide OPIOID PAINKILLER epidemic!
    Geez, who’d a thunk it, huh?

    Immunity from civil litigation
    “Safe” vaccines becoming MANDATORY
    Enormous amounts of “poppy” to create and “hook” the politically correct idiots

    What the hell is there NOT to love about pharmaceutical “business”?

  • David Geffeney

    Well where to begin. I doubt this will reach the author in any meaningful way. for the rest of you however, here is the challenge that “functional” medicine (non science based medicine) will need to overcome.

    Take the first study sited in this article. For starters, it did go through the rigors of science based medicine which isn’t typical for alternative medicine. Yet it is still wildly inconclusive. Here is why that is important. For starters, it hasn’t necessary been reviewed fully and duplicated. But here is it’s conclusion on boa constrictor oil verbatim.

    “However, further work will be needed to confirm the mechanism(s) by which it produces its anti-inflammatory effect as well as identify, isolate and characterize the active chemical constituent which could be added to potential list of anti-inflammatory agents.”

    Also, negative effects have not been tracked or measured. There could be harmful protein in this snake oil.

    There may indeed be good evidence for some remedies, but great evidence exists for God, yet that doesn’t make him real. In fact there is huge evidence for Santa Claus on Dec 25th, but there is a better explanation for gifts under the tree. What are the mechanisms that give the appearance of usefulness in most of functional medicine? Hold tight.

    See the issue that science based medicine has with alternative is that “what works for naturopathy or alternative medicine isnt unique, what’s unique about them doesnt work (I will grant that nutritional deficiencies know by both science and alternatives do in fact work)”

    Science based medicine alone has a mechanism for removing conformation bias, regression to the mean, and placebo/nocebo effects. Also ways to determine collateral damages. The author here has a clear confirmation bias that is not overcome by the alternative medicine industry process. BS remedies are still mainstream in the market today. They are safer indeed, but nearly ineffective in most cases when the scientific processes is avoided as they don’t have the resources to truly test their junk.

    Also, there were only 55,403 drug related deaths in 2016. That includes illicit use overdose. This is a “sensational” article though. Pharmaceutical don’t kill quite as many as stated, but it is still an issue. Alternatives don’t kill as often indeed (although it does happen) because what they are giving you is likely ineffective as we deem “snake oil”. Now, let the ill-advised debate begin.

    • Becky Biehl

      Since everything is energy and it’s always moving and shifting…