The Feed’s Jan Fran greets the many and varied Australians for a chat before they face a panel of medical experts who will decide if their home remedies will get a clinical trial.
Will they prove to be medicine or myth?
With such a complicated task ahead of her - and the participants - we chatted with the journalist about scrutinising home remedies and the contributors’ passion for finding a cure...
You’ve been all around the world reporting, you must have seen some weird stuff. Did any of these remedies rate on the weird scale for you?
There’s a few that kind of stuck in my mind. One was earwax for curing cold sores and it kind of has to be your own earwax. You’ve sort of gotta pull it out of your ear and you’ve gotta put it on the cold sore. The gentleman had had cold sores for a number of years and he’d tried everything and then this was the thing that worked. I don’t know how keen I would necessarily be to try that one.
There was one woman using raw meat to treat cuts which I thought, ‘OK, that’s interesting. Raw meat on an open wound, not sure how that’s gonna go’.
All of these people bringing in these kind of home remedies have tried other things and this is something that has worked for them so I guess, who I am to say that that’s not the case? It’s a whole different story with our experts because they probably have a little bit more knowledge on exactly what’s going on there. For me, I’m like, ‘All right, I’ll take on what you’re saying but let’s see how you go with the panel of experts’.
The conversations get pretty frank, don’t they? You haven’t been afraid to talk a bit about your own experiences - a colon cleansing disaster etc. - but was there anything you talked about with the contributors that made you squeamish?
I’m not too much of a squeamish kind of person but there was one woman who uses her menstrual blood as a way of calming herself down and as a way of treating anxiety. Part of that involved kind of coating parts of her face and body with menstrual blood. I must say I did get a tiny bit squeamish about that one.
It’s funny what you end up talking about. I interviewed Dr Charlie Teo (one of the medical experts on the show), and the woman who inserted garlic in her vagina to treat thrush came up. He was very matter-of-fact, but it ended up being these two guys talking about garlic, vaginas and mucosa which was very weird.
[Laughs] That’s the thing with this show. It sort of bridges the personal and the clinical. It kind of sits really, really beautifully in that Venn diagram between the two. You can talk about it on a scientific, matter-of-fact level like you did with Charlie about garlic and you can kind of get a little bit more into the sort of personal element of it by talking to some of the men and women on the show and hearing the personal stories behind some of the remedies. I think one of the show’s real strengths is that it’s relatable. Surely everybody knows somebody who’s got some kind of natural remedy they swear by.
You’re not impartial to a bit of a “Frant” as you call it. What do you think about the potential crackdown on complementary medicines by the Medical Board of Australia?
Look, I think at the end of the day there are experts that know a whole bunch more than what I do and I’m always going to be listening to people who know more than what I do about these things. Would I be recommending that everyone sticks garlic in their vagina or puts earwax on their cold sores or uses coconut oil to try and cure dementia? Absolutely not because I’m no expert on any of these things. Zero people should take medical advice from me! I think complementary medicine has a place, but the extent to which it should be used should very much be determined by doctors and medical experts who’ve done the research.
There’s that sort of push and pull isn’t there with the judging panel between wanting to be open to these home remedies but also keeping in mind, are they going to be safe and efficacious?
Yeah, exactly, exactly, and I think that’s kind of where the tension of it comes in. I think a lot of people are invested in these kind of natural complementary medicines. They want to know if they work, and they want to know they’re efficient and they want to know they’re doing the right thing and so there’s a bit at stake.
I think all of that kind of stuff is a balance between the two. I don’t judge people who say ‘I want as much complementary or natural kind of remedies or medicines in my life’, really. But I think it just comes down to the fact that you might be wrong. If you’re someone who believes in natural remedies only, I think it’s very important that you’re open to what the science says about that because the science might not support your belief.
It’s got to be cost prohibitive for people to actually have these treatments scientifically, professionally tested?
Definitely. Putting something through a clinical trial is not an easy thing to do and so this is a real opportunity for people to have a remedy they swear by be tested. Doing that is a risk for someone who really, really believes that something works and then they might find out later that actually, no it doesn’t or it’s a placebo or that just because it worked for them doesn’t mean it’ll work for everybody. They’d be a mixture of nerves and excitement in the contestants.
You sort of think about how many people these remedies could potentially help. The potential of the Chinese herbal mix to ease the symptoms of endometriosis, for example. There are 700,000 Australian women suffering from it, and there’s currently no cure for that in Western medicine.
Yeah, exactly and this is something that I kind of came back to time and time again, is at the end of the day, it’s people who are trying to help other people, really. That’s what it comes down to, it’s people who feel they’ve discovered this information that has helped them so much that they want as many people as possible to know about it.
I’ve had cold sores in the past and they are horrible things to have. There were definitely moments where I would have tried anything that anyone recommended to alleviate the symptoms or get rid of the cold sores. You can imagine people who do have things like endometriosis, a herbal remedy or a kind of a complementary remedy might not cure it or make it go away, but it might alleviate some symptoms. If it helps them in some small way, surely that’s a positive.
What struck me about the show is that it’s really emotional, isn’t it? There’s a lot of empathy from the judges and it’s quite overwhelming for some of the contestants when they find out that their remedy works.
Yeah, but it’s not surprising, right? Because they have invested so much into it, they’ve invested their own money and I think it’s like real vindication. They must have doubted themselves through that whole process and suddenly, they don’t doubt themselves, which is quite an overwhelming feeling I think as well. But it can go the other way as well, where they’re so sure something works only to be told it doesn’t.
But it’s sort of the gamut of emotions with this show because you have those elements of humour, it’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s about fun but it’s also quite serious and quite personal and quite consequential.
In the end, it’s really about people who just want to feel better and to help people improve their lives, and they believe that they’ve found something that helps them do that.
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: