Today I read a news article about Dutch influencer Donny Roelvink who apologized for recommending a cosmetic medical procedure. He had had porcelain plates added to the front of his teeth so they would become pearly white again and the procedure had been fully sponsored by the clinic with the catch being that he had to promote them and their practices. He apologized for advertising due to the potential risks of the procedure, stating that “It is and always will be a medical procedure- and those come with risks. You have to bring those to light.” This made me think of snake oil, a substance with no actual medical value that is sold as a remedy for often just about anything.
Over the past years as the influence of the internet and its celebrities has grown, there has been an influx of advertisements for supplements, medication, and even cosmetic medical procedures done through these influencers. Whether they are promoting their own product or are promoting a sponsoring brand, there seems to be a general lack of responsibility taken by and placed on these influencers. There are plenty of examples of modern-day snake oils and I just want to mention a few.
One of these well-known modern snakes oil is Jilly Juice. Jilly Juice is a mixture of water, a lot of salt, and fermented cabbage or kale. In itself, it doesn’t sound like much but the creator, Jillian Mai Thi Epperly, claims that it does things like curing cancer and autism spectrum disorders, regenerating lost limbs, and reversing the effects of ageing. There has been at least one death connected to the use of Jilly Juice, caused by the high amount of salt in the concoction ruining the man’s body. There are more deaths that are related to the use of this juice but those are not due to the effects of the juice itself but due to the patients not seeking out actual health care for their cancer and they instead turned to Jilly Juice. This demonstrates one of the biggest dangers that these snake oils bring. Instead of seeking adequate health care, people fall for snake oil scams which lead to the worsening of their condition.
Another modern snake oil seller is dōTERRA. The company is a badly disguised MLM scheme that has been through numerous lawsuits regarding their MLM nature, the quality of their products, and the claims that are made about their products. The company and their distributors sell essential oils that they claim can cure a plethora of things. It wasn’t until their claim that their oils “effectively kill Ebola virus” that the FDA issued them a warning. In a letter to dōTERRA, the FDA mentioned the following:
Your consultants promote your above mentioned dōTERRA Essential Oil products for conditions including, but not limited to, viral infections (including ebola), bacterial infections, cancer, brain injury, autism, endometriosis, Grave’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, tumor reduction, ADD/ADHD, and other conditions that are not amenable to self-diagnosis and treatment by individuals who are not medical practitioners. Moreover, your consultants redirect consumers to your website, www.doterra.com, to register as a customer or member (i.e., consultant), and to purchase your dōTERRA Essential Oil products.”FDA
Snake oil trends
Lastly, I want to mention a more general snake oil trend that isn’t tied to a specific product, brand, or person. Every once in a while a new viral trend pops up where people suddenly discovered that an ‘exotic’ product is actually a treatment or supplement that treats a number of smaller and bigger health problems. A recent trend was the consumption of papaya seeds in order to cure yourself of parasites, which was spread with the misinformation that all of us are always full of parasites. While nobody immediately profits of a trend like this, it does open doors. Maybe dōTERRA’s next oil will be specifically papaya seed oil, which will get associated with being a parasite treatment by those who believed in the original trend. It has been proven that papaya seeds do not treat parasitic infections.
Most of these trends are based on the ancient wisdom fallacy; just because we used to eat something and think it cured us, does not mean it actually did. My favourite example of this is the consumption of mummies, but that’s a topic for another blog post. It is easy to say that we all need to think before we buy into snake oils like these, especially since most of them are supported by pseudo-science or a cult-like following. But I will still implore you to do a deep dive into any company or person that claims they have a cure for something that already has one, could never be cured, and especially when they say doctors are hiding said cure from us.
Great post! Really interesting to see these examples and how social media only help perpetuate these false claims. It really reminds me of all those so-called superfoods, that supposedly help you lose weight really fast. I do think that sadly it is just human nature to fall for these kinds of products, especially since most of them seem to give an instant cure to something. But now especially with social media it seems like this type of thinking only gets more and more out of hand.