The image of a snake oil salesman– a con artist who markets an inert product as a panacea– is pervasive. In the United States, consumer advocates widely perceive snake oil as an iconic example of medical fraud. Snake oil is not the silver bullet that vagabond peddlers once represented it to be. However, the fat of the Chinese water snake does offer a variety of surprising health benefits.
Chinese water snake oil is rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a potently medicinal omega-3 fatty acid. This nutritious compound is responsible for many of the the therapeutic effects associated with fish oil, krill oil and algal oil. Because of this compound, snake oil may be a legitimate treatment option for several common conditions.
Here are ten real benefits of snake oil.
1. Pain Relief
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), snake oil is used as a treatment for pain and inflammation, particularly from arthritis. Scientific investigations have confirmed that omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA, can relieve symptoms of painful inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Snake oil may also help to reduce painful inflammation caused by injuries, and it can amplify the effects of conventional anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.
2. Arrhythmia Prevention
EPA in snake oil can help to prevent cardiac arrythmia, a condition that causes the heart to beat abnormally. This condition has been linked to serious health problems and sudden death.
3. Blood Pressure
Omega-3 fatty acids in snake oil can help to reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension . TCM practitioners sometimes recommend snake oil as a complementary treatment for people with persistent high blood pressure.
4. Triglyceride Control
EPA is highly effective as a treatment hypertryglyeridemia, or high triglyceride levels. This key omega-3 fatty acid, found in abundance in Chinese water snake oil, rivals conventional treatments for high triglyceride levels.
5. Heart Attack Prevention
People who consume EPA on a regular basis have lower rates of fatal heart attacks, nonfatal heart attacks and sudden death. Scientists theorize that omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of heart attack by lowering blood pressure and maintaining supple arteries. This is one of the most important, life-saving benefits of snake oil.
6. Depression Treatment
EPA sources like snake oil can prevent and treat many forms of depression. Clinical trials suggest that EPA can effectively treat antenatal, postpartum and pediatric depression– serious conditions that often resist conventional treatment.
7. Mental Health
Snake oil may treat serious psychiatric disorders, including those that involve psychosis and borderline-psychosis. While evidence is inconclusive, several studies have demonstrated that EPA reduces symptoms of psychosis in people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia and borderline personality disorder.
8. Brain Food
The human brain is largely composed of omega-3 fatty acids similar to those found in snake oil. EPA supports brain and eye development in newborns and young children and helps to enrich mother’s milk. Omega-3 fatty acids in snake oil are a theoretical (but yet unproven) treatment for attention deficit disorder and autism-spectrum disorders.
9. Skin Health
The benefits of snake oil are valued by people with chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Traditional Chinese healers have historically used snake oil as an oral or topical treatment for these conditions. Today, some studies have supported the notion that EPA can improve skin health and prevent dryness, flaking, itching and peeling.
10. Cancer Prevention
Snake oil can’t cure cancer, but a diet rich in its constituent compound EPA may help to prevent some forms of the disease. Population studies suggest that EPA reduces a person’s risk of developing colon, prostate or breast cancer. Early evidence also indicates that omega-3 fatty acids can improve the efficacy of conventional cancer treatments.
Despite its notoriety, snake oil may offer benefits as both a treatment and prophylaxis for several common diseases. However, omega-3 supplements can also cause unanticipated side effects and drug interactions. As always, talk to your health care provider about any forms of complementary and alternative medicine that you use.
Western Journal of Medicine- Snake Oil
National Institutes of Health- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
American Heart Association- Omega-3 Fatty Acids