Season three of Trust Me I’m a Doctor, the BBC-created infotainment show that investigates modern health concerns, starts tonight on SBS. Host Dr Michael Mosley and his team embark on a series of mini medical adventures – from the accuracy of bathroom scales, to the benefits of increasing fat in one’s diet, to whether crossing one’s legs results in varicose veins.
To celebrate the premiere of a show that will either silence or arouse our inner-hypochondriacs, here’s a list of the most sick and twisted medical myths perpetrated by history’s doctors.
1. Women grow sick due to their ‘wandering wombs’
The ancient Greeks believed the uterus was an “animal inside an animal” – an organ that could easily detach at any moment and knock about inside the body, bumping into other organs and nerves and arteries, thus causing headaches, heartburn, vertigo, knee issues, insomnia, pulse problems, and death.
2. A radioactive drink will cure what ails ya
In the early 20th century, we saw radioactivity as chronic pain’s best friend. Uranium blankets for arthritis, radium brooches for rheumatism, even radioactive cosmetics for that ‘newly poisoned’ look. But the most disturbing practice was a cure-all drink called Radithor – branded water that contained Radium and Mesothorium, and remained on the shelves until a pesky consumer’s jaw fell off.
[Pic: Chicago Tribune Archives]
3. Drug cocktails wash away pesky coughs
In the early 20th century, doctors pushed a rather suspect miracle cure for the common cold. Undoubtedly, ‘One Night Cough Syrup’ provided temporarily relief of symptoms. In fact, it would have relieved most symptoms related to most illnesses. Before I reveal the ingredient list, you can have faith that in 1934, the US FDA ruled that the drink’s “claims of therapeutic properties” weren’t totally on the level. You reckon?
4. Hot-as-hell iron rods will get rid of your hemorrhoids
The title speaks for itself, but for a little more context - medieval physicians used the business end of a cautery iron to treat hemorrhoids. The implement was heated until red-hot and inserted into the suffering anus until the offending rose of flesh burst. While this ingenious remedy usually did the job, it also led to severe burns, tears and infections exponentially worse than any hemorrhoid.
5. Sharks are cancer-killing machines
In 1992, the book ‘Sharks Don’t Get Cancer’ sparked a myth that because every species of shark is cancer-free, their cartilage must contain cancer-killing agents. While this was quickly rebuffed for reasons including the fact that sharks often do get cancer, the stuff is still readily sold for treatment of minor ailments.
6. Mashed rodent makes for the best toothpaste
If an ancient Egyptian kid ate enough Skittles to develop a tooth boo-boo, chances are the doctor might grind a mouse into a dense paste and rub it into the offending area. Delusions of miracle mice continued into the 16th century, where medical practitioners relied on “a mouse rotted and given to children to eat remedieth pissing the bed”.
7. A fresh human corpse contains a bounty of remedies
16th and 17th Century Europe was crawling with cannibals, and not the savage, tribal image to which we’re accustomed. Scientists, scholars, and both the royal and religious swore by the therapeutic properties of a newly dead human being. Fat was coveted, as were bones and blood, and were used to treat everything from epilepsy to mild headaches.
8. Sicknesses leave via a hole in the head
If feeling a little under the weather and the doctor suggests a wee bit of trepanation, politely decline and back away slowly. Otherwise, a manual winding drill would make a hole in your skull to give your ailment —initially viewed as a trapped evil spirit—an exit route. This brutal surgery was used in some form from roughly 6500 BC up until the Renaissance period, and even has a modern equivalent.
9. Electrocution = erection
If any man was to come across the promotional poster for this impotence zapper, they’d either cry or whip out the coin purse. Dr. Sanders’ Electric Belt sent an electric pulse into the privates, and enticed men to cure their “lost manhood” by leading off with “MEN! WHY ARE YOU WEAK?” We’re not, we’re just tired.
[Pic: SF Genealogy]
10. Goose semen eases a painful childbirth
Ancient Rome’s Pliny the Elder was the go-to guy when it came to midwifery, and with good reason. Along with such revelatory deductions as males entering the world with more ease than females, Pliny eased a pregnant woman’s pain by adding a good dollop of goose semen to their drinking water. If you weren’t into that, he also prescribed “the liquids that flow from a weasel's uterus through its genitals." Naturally.
Starting tonight, watch Trust Me, I’m a Doctor series 3 on Mondays at 7:30pm (AEST) on SBS and SBS On Demand.