In Medicine or Myth?, everyday Australians present their alternative remedies, many handed down the generations, for a variety of ailments to a medical panel. Comprised of leading neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo, family and women’s health expert Dr Ginni Mansberg, and Associate Professor in immunology Ashraful Haque, the medical experts decide whether each remedy will go through to a clinical trial.
Many of the contestants have suffered greatly and believe that their discoveries could potentially help others. Here are some of their stories...
In her 30s, Beata Lekki, who emigrated from Poland to Australia three decades ago, developed severe acne on her face. The condition made the special education teacher and music therapist feel “ashamed” and “embarrassed". She was reluctant to even leave her house.
Prescription medications didn’t work for the mother of two, now 57, from southern NSW, but Beata remembered her grandmother’s remedy of homemade sauerkraut, applied to the face. It had a profound effect, eventually healing her acne.
Elle and Robin Zirwanda
Sydneysiders and natural remedy enthusiasts Elle and Robin Zirwanda found that the answer to Elle’s long-term dermatitis was right in their backyard – chickweed. Marketing manager Elle, 46, met Baghdad-born musician Robin, 64, some 30 years ago. “He’s the talent, I’m the brains,” jests Elle. She says chickweed has changed her life after a number of medications failed to help her urticarial dermatitis, more commonly known as hives. Robin has also found it to be helpful to scratch an unsightly orifice itch that he says can affect some musos.
George Walley calls the Australian bush “a big food bowl and pharmacy”. The Noongar man from Western Australia recalls growing up around the bush, “a place of learning bushcraft, hunting skills and finding foods.” He learnt about the ancient Indigenous “natural antibiotic” for cold and flu – the sap of the marri tree, a bloodwood native to the state – as a young adult.
George, 57, a former primary school teacher who now runs indigenous cultural tours with his wife Lee-Anne, is passionate about traditional medicine and hopes that generations to follow will keep up ancient Indigenous practices.
“They say there’s no mistakes in life, so perhaps it was waiting for me,” says Dijana Cane, 51, of the tree change that led to her finding a solution to her 15-year-long struggle with gingivitis that caused her gums to bleed profusely.
The former financial planner who operates an organic olive grove in the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria, created a mouthwash and tea, made with the leaves of noxious blackberry weeds growing on her property, to treat her gingivitis. Dijana says it’s improved her quality of life immeasurably.
The self-described ninja and former Australia’s Got Talent contestant’s life-long passion for martial arts began after he experienced violent bullying at school, leading him to study self-defence under the tutelage of a Japanese ninja master from the age of 15. “A ninja is always ready for battle,” Andrew, 46, tells the show’s host Jan Fran.
The Bundaberg, North Queensland native who has studied Kung Fu in Taiwan and China, and Ninjutsu in Japan, swears by a mixture of wild clay and honey to heal wounds. He discovered the remedy some 20 years ago.
Chris and Kathy Ashton
Victorian medical nutritionists Chris and Kathy Ashton have found a very unusual remedy for cold sores, for which there is currently no cure. Chris, 59, has suffered cold sores around his mouth since he was a child and says they caused him much shame and embarrassment. In her research, Chris’s wife Kathy, 57, discovered that earwax could potentially be a natural, simple and very cheap remedy, if highly unpalatable.
Chris wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of smearing earwax on his cold sores but it proved an effective, fast-acting treatment. But it’s only Chris’s own earwax that works. “If it gets a trial it will give that level of credibility, whereas right now, we sort of get laughed at,” says Chris.
Event manager and life coach Davy Nguyen was eight years old when he fled Vietnam, then under a communist regime, to live in Australia with his aunty and uncle. His four brothers and parents stayed in his homeland.
In Australia, he developed chronic asthma and used the common treatment of a puffer to soothe it. But the father of three from Sydney discovered a 2,500-year-old alternative remedy, passed down the generations of his family, that he says has cured his asthma altogether – dried, crushed seahorse.
The ancient remedy also had an unexpectedly stimulating effect.
Jean-Claude de Toulouse
Jean-Claude de Toulouse, 61, describes himself as a “prince of the mountains” thanks to his aristocratic lineage. He grew up in Lebanon’s Druze Mountains and suffered from “really serious” sinusitis as a child.
The chef and language tutor (who's fluent in seven languages) moved to Australia when he was 30 and swears by an ancient remedy passed down by his grandmother that he says cures blocked sinuses immediately – a “festive” rice pudding.
“I’m hoping to pass on five thousand years of knowledge,” says Jean-Claude. “I don’t want to keep it to myself, I want to share it.”
[Disclaimer] This article contains general information only and does not recommend or endorse any particular treatment. It is not intended to replace the advice provided by your own doctor or medical or health professional.
Watch Medicine or Myth? Mondays at 8:30 pm on SBS. Missed the first episode? Stream it at SBS On Demand: