Anybody who tries to sell us a quick remedy for obesity, a fountain-of-youth formula, or a miracle cure for back pain is usually called a cheat, a charlatan, or a cur.
But is that fair assessment of snake oil salesmen? Not necessarily!
As it turns out, snake oil does have measurable health effects, assuming you’re using the authentic formula derived from the fat of the Chinese water snake. This fat is processed and refined into a concentrated oil that possesses high levels of EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid directly linked to a number of benefits for human health.
So while the term “snake oil” is derisively used to label fraudulent medical remedies or shady wheeler-dealers, the EPA found in the original blend can indeed loosen up stiff joints and relieve inflammation in various parts of the body. It also has analgesic properties which makes it a popular balm following an injury or surgery, or during a chronic illness that causes constant pain. Used as a rub, this oil can also speed up healing of wounds and injuries.
Not only that, if you find yourself blowing a gasket without a good explanation, rub a small amount of snake oil on your temples, or apply it to your chest, and feel your mood improve. And don’t forget the scalp! The traditional use of snake oil includes massaging small amounts into the cranium in order to prevent hair loss.*
But Caveat Emptor, as Carnival Bob always says. There are plenty of snakes in the world, but their venom doesn’t contain the level of EPA that will help cure your ills. American patent-medicine peddlers of the late 1900’s sold liniments labeled “rattlesnake oil”, but the oil of rattlesnakes has 1/10th the level of omega 3 that the Chinese water snake has.
*We’re also perfectly comfortable with male pattern baldness, as it provides a boost for sales of hats and sunscreens vital for the U.S. economy.