Ever seen a cigarette ad from the 1950’s? “More doctors smoke Camel cigarettes than any other cigarette.” “To keep a slender figure, no one can deny Lucky Strike.” “Viceroys filter the smoke. As your dentist, I would recommend Viceroy.” “2,679 physicians say Luckys are less irritating.”
We’ve been led to believe a lot of hokum about health, most often in the name of consumerism. Some trends, however, have been more damaging than others. One would hope this sort of thing has faded over time or at least improved with the establishment of regulatory boards, more accurate scientific testing and better informed consumers.
One would be sorely mistaken. It seems we never learn our lesson. We’re still getting duped all the time. Consider some of the things we were once led to believe were good for us:
3 Extraordinary ‘Remedies’ We Used To Believe Were Healthy
In the early 1900s, radiation came to popularity as a treatment for a wide range of illnesses. Not only was in injected directly in the body, but radioactive pendants were sold to combat rheumatism, along with uranium blankets for treating arthritis.
Several cosmetic lines containing radium were introduced around that time. One line, Radior, claimed to “vitalize and energize all living tissue” – a claim that other, similar companies were also making. They produced night creams, blush, vanishing powder, talcum powder and skin soap, among other products. While these products sold well in Europe, in the U.S. people found it hard to believe such an expensive material could be used in cosmetics.
Radium-enriched water was also available at that time, since it was believed that water naturally contained some radium. The radiation party came to an abrupt end when a wealthy, well-known Pittsburgh industrialist – one who famously drank three glasses of radium-enriched water per day claiming it cured chronic pain and increased sexual vitality – lost his teeth, suffered holes in his skulls and the eventual collapse of his entire mouth.
It’s hard to argue with those results.
2. Heroin & Cocaine:
In 1898, heroin was marketed as a non-addictive alternative to morphine. Primarily a cough remedy, heroin was added to the throat lozenges, cough drops, elixirs and balsams of the day. It was even considered a safe remedy for children to use as a cough suppressant.
Of course, this pharmaceutical company must have gone straight out of business when it was discovered just how addictive heroin really is, right? No siree Bob, they did not. That company was Bayer, also responsible for creating aspirin, which, though potentially damaging as well, did not turn out to be addictive.
Freud also touted the use of cocaine as a miracle drug, which he took in small amounts for treating depression and warding of indigestion.
The first lobotomy was conducted in 1935, though the technique did not come to popularity until the ‘40s and ‘50s, when a procedure was invented that was relatively inexpensive and very quick.
The “Ice Pick” method was used to reach the brain through the eye socket (early tests on cadavers were done with an actual ice pick). An instrument called an orbitoclast was inserted through the eye and twirled around to cut the fibres of the brain. This process could be done by a non-surgeon without an operating room in about 10 minutes.
These lobotomies worked, or so it seemed. They had the power to alter emotional responses, curing deep depression by rendering patients calm and, in some cases, docile. The technique was also used (abused, more like) to change personalities, the most famous of which was that of Rosemary Kennedy, sister of JFK, whose moods were certainly improved by the technique but whose mental capacity was reduced to that of a small child.
Have We Learned Our Lesson?
It doesn’t appear consumers have learned their lesson. We are still falling victim to clever marketing of products of a questionable nature. Glaceau Vitaminwater is a great example of one such product.
In 2009, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest sued Coca-Cola for hoodwinking the world into thinking Vitaminwater was healthy, even though a single bottle contains 33 grams of sugar. (Health experts may be on the fence about certain issues, but sugar is not one of them).
Coca-Cola’s response? Their lawyers argued that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.” Oy.
Margarine is another product that continues to dupe nation after nation, year upon year. It began in the ‘50s, when butter was demonised and margarine touted as the healthy alternative. Since then margarine has been reformulated and rebranded to suit every health craze imaginable: olive oil margarine, trans fat free margarine, cholesterol free margarine, vegan margarine, soy margarine, etc.
So How Do I Protect Myself and My Family?
With any health fad, it’s important to do your due diligence. Beware of branding. Labels like “natural”, “made with whole grains”, “0g trans fat” or “made with real fruit” have little to no meaning in most parts of the world, since these types of labels are not heavily regulated.
Read labels and read them thoroughly. Nutritional information can be helpful but keep in mind that serving sizes can be very misleading. (Not only that, but some studies show they are also grossly inaccurate). Avoid the whole dilemma by eating real food: plants, berries, vegetables, and bread with ingredients you can understand.
Consider that the bigger the brand, the more heavily they’ve invested in clever branding and the more thoroughly they understand how to dupe their customers. Beware of green lettering and green logos. That’s just branding. A green label does not a green product make.
Pharmaceuticals are a little trickier. It’s difficult to get good information. Many are pushed through with little to no long term testing and pulled from the shelves only when their harmful nature becomes apparent. Stick to what’s tried, tested and true or avoid altogether where possible.
Trust your instincts. If a food product has to convince you it’s healthy, it probably isn’t. Chances are the manufacturer has got something to hide. The use of radium is a great example of what can happen when manufacturers and consumers jump on the bandwagon without doing their research, as often happens in the cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and agriculture industries.
Sometimes it’s okay to be a skeptic. Someone’s got to do the research after all. By not doing that research, we’re allowing ourselves to be used as test subjects. And don’t we deserve better than that?