Top 5 Dumbest Holistic Remedy Foods
Yup, that's pretty much it.
Photo illustrations by John Seaborn Gray
Some people prefer to base their belief systems on things like evidence, logic, reason and personal experience. That's all fine and dandy if you want to go through life believing only in things that can be substantiated by repeated impartial experiments, but gosh, that sounds so boring, doesn't it? That's why other people enjoy basing their belief systems around whatever has the least amount of evidence to support it. It's like living in a world of magic! Nothing is as it seems, and everything is a placebo!
Holistic practitioners are usually also conspiracy theorists, because the same fundamental belief informs both ideologies: that a specious, loosely related, unsubstantiated and easily disproven theory or practice is much, much better than one which has been researched, tested and re-tested by those conspiratorial squares, the scientists. The more concrete evidence you can supply to back up the benefits of a certain remedy, the less likely a holistic practitioner is to embrace it. Flu shots? They don't prevent the flu, they cause autism! Better to squirt some colloidal silver down your throat. You'll turn blue, but whatever. That's the price of good health.
Not all holistic medicine is garbage, of course. Some of the foods and supplements holisticians champion actually have turned out to contain beneficial antioxidants or vitamins or what have you. We won't be looking at those. Here, instead, are some of the dumbest holistic remedies your money - and plenty of it - can buy.
5. Juice fasting We'll start out with one that isn't harmful (because, oh Lord, just wait'll you see), but instead is simply a big waste of time. Juice fasting is the practice of drinking nothing but fruit / vegetable juice for days at a time to cleanse "toxins" from your system. No one ever directly says what these "toxins" are or how they get cleansed, and for good reason: It doesn't work by any measurable standard.
Juice fasting is popular in America largely because, thanks to our fucked-up Puritan roots, we still have this pervasive mindset that says we can misbehave and degrade ourselves and others and then make it okay, like it never happened, with minor acts of contrition and penitence. So the thinking goes, if you're tired of being such a drunken, strung-out, diseased little whore ("whore" being a gender-neutral term in this case, thanks) you can simply "juice fast" and purge all those "toxins," a.k.a. sins, from your body like so many cran-apple-flavored Hail Marys. Not how it works, folks. The damage alcohol and drugs wreak upon your brain, liver and other organs is, in many cases, permanent. Once crystal meth has killed brain cells, you don't get those brain cells back. Your body's natural recovery is aided not at all by juice fasting, and in fact can be hurt by it, since if you're not careful, juice fasting can cause diarrhea and lead to dehydration. Sure, you get vitamins from fruit juice, but guess what: You can get those vitamins just as easily by drinking the juice in addition to all of the horrible shit you eat, drink, snort, shoot and freebase. "Juice fasting" is simply the latest fad in placebos. Sorry.
4. Eatin' Trees Gemmotherapy is a popular form of alternative medicine in Italy, where it fled once the French realized it was laughable hokum. To boil it down for you, you take the embryonic tissue of a tree or other plant from its bulbs or seeds during the high point of spring or autumn, or whenever your handy-dandy Acme Divining Rod and PKE Meter indicates the plant's "vital energy" is strongest. We're not sure what's done with this material; all the articles we've read are eerily vague about it. We've found it's used for "organ drainage" as a way to get rid of "toxins" (again) which have somehow accumulated in the body (again). Sound familiar? Yeah, holistic medicine deals in "toxins" and "energies" a lot because they use those terms in such a way that they can't really be measured. Gemmotherapy is also used to treat sleeplessness and high blood pressure, because let's face it, it does nothing, so you can treat whatever the hell you want with it, really. As Australian comedian Tim Minchin put it, "You know what they call 'alternative medicine' that's been proved to work? Medicine."
The body does have a way of getting rid of toxins that have built up in your system, by the way. It's called pooping, and we're led to understand that everyone does it, although we must be a special case, because for some reason ours does not stink.
3. Licorice What's your problem, you got hepatitis? Hyperkalemia? Cough? Irritable bowel syndrome? Cancer? Chew on some black Twizzlers, everybody's least favorite Twizzler, it'll clear ya right up. Or not.
Oddly enough, licorice in small doses may actually help to ease constipation (it is a mild laxative), and a compound extracted from it is currently being studied as a way to delay old age senility. Its benefits seem vague and unsubstantiated, however, when compared to what New Age healers claim it can do. It's used in Eastern medicine to treat cough, hepatitis, mouth ulcers, and to help harmonize the Twelve Regular Meridians, so thank God for that.
Herbalists, who are pretty much modern-day alchemists in that they have substituted the more popular terms "solution" and "energy" for the more accurate terms "potion" and "magic," use licorice as an ingredient in the Hoxley Formula. Sounds like a Dan Brown novel, and just like in one of those novels, here's the shitty, predictable twist: It can maim and/or kill you. Used as a topical paste, it can cause burning and scarring. It has a host of unpleasant side effects when ingested, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, something called "heart block" that we're actually scared to look up, and it can kill the young and infirm. Oh, one more thing about the Hoxley Formula you should know: we can't blame this on the licorice, but another ingredient ("red clover," which is an awesome code name) can fool the body into thinking it's estrogen. Bad news for women with estrogen-responsive breast tumors. Hey, wasn't this stuff supposed to cure cancer? But instead it can actually make your cancer exponentially worse? Oh man. That's... pretty clearly deliberate evil. Someone should check and see if "Hoxley" is a known alias of Josef Mengele, because damn.
But licorice is only bad for you when combined with deadly carcinogens by mad Nazi wizards, right? Well, no. Turns out, consuming as little as 100mg of licorice (about 3.5 ounces) can immediately trigger muscle weakness, fatigue, headaches or swelling, and lower testosterone levels in men. Regular consumption of around 50mg can lead to raised blood pressure, and higher amounts consumed can poison your liver and cardiovascular system. Eat 200 mg a day like a lady in England did, and you could wind up in the hospital with muscle failure. Muscle failure doesn't seem so bad until you realize muscles are what cause your lungs to expand and contract. Yeah, so, kind of a big deal.
That's right, bitter almonds. You stay there and groan for a while. We'll wait.
2. Bitter almonds Extracting a substance called "amygdalin" from bitter almonds and modifying it into a dubious "vitamin" called "Vitamin B-17," legendary quack Ernst T. Krebs claimed to have created a cure for cancer.
Holistic remedies that claim to cure cancer have to be some of the most hateful scams out there. They prey on the fears of the doomed and dying, and insinuate that if a cancer-stricken person doesn't give this credulous crap a chance, it's their own fault when they die because they didn't "try everything." What's even worse about Krebs's little placebo, however, is that it can actually poison you. You might remember that we mentioned almonds in our article about common poisonous foods. Of course, satirically alarmist tone of that article aside, you'd have to eat unprocessed bitter almonds to be exposed to the cyanide contained therein, and nobody does that. At least, nobody did, until some idiot concentrated that very poison and told people it would eliminate their cancer. Which it does, because when you die, so does your cancer.
1. Homeopathic Solutions Homeopathy was invented in 1796 by a German doctor named Samuel Hahnemann, back when you were on the cutting edge of medical science if you didn't believe every malady was caused by demons. His whole idea can basically be summed up as "like (plus dilution) cures like." This means that if your symptoms are gassiness, nausea, and cramps, then you go find something that causes those symptoms, like a salad from Wendy's, dilute the bejeezus out of it, slam it against the wall exactly ten times (seriously) and then ingest it. So you'd take a tiny scrap of your Wendy's salad, chop it up to its finest point, dilute it with distilled water, chop that up some more, dilute it some more, and so on until your Intruder Alarm went off and you had to go shoot at UFOs or whatever it is crazy people do. Be honest, you may or may not get back to your little science project here.
What makes it dumber than most forms of holistic medicine is that the so-called solutions are usually diluted so much, they no longer contain even a single molecule of the original ingredient. So there's two levels of fantasy: First, you have to believe you can cure your bubbleguts with milkweed or sycamore seeds or some damn thing, and then you have to believe that, even once you've diluted it to the point that all traces of that element are gone, your "solution" will still "remember" the healing properties of the substance you introduced to it and therefore be just as beneficial. That half a shot of distilled water you drank is capable of recalling back to a better time, when it was mingling with the ground-up sand that can cure your migraines. So... when does Xenu show up?
To be fair, though, a lot of homeopathic solutions proudly proclaim that they are "12x or better" solutions, meaning they've been diluted only enough to allow that there's still one or two molecules of the original material floating around in the distilled water somewhere. So clearly us skeptics are just being difficult and hard to please.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.