Thursday, May 26, 2011

Snake Oil?

Over on SICFIT, Kiki Dickson recently made an offhand remark about her gym’s stock of snake oil.

Seriously? I thought. Snake oil?

After all, isn’t “snake oil” the term we apply to supposed cure-alls peddled by charlatans and con artists? You know -- like kombucha and Power Balance bands?

I did some digging. Turns out that back in the 1860s, the Chinese laborers who built the U.S. transcontinental railroad system used an ointment derived from water snakes to treat their tired, aching muscles. They called it shéyóu (蛇油) -- an ancient remedy for "inflammation and pain in rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, and other similar conditions." And it was a surprisingly effective salve.

Why? Here’s one possible answer:
According to [neurophysiologist Richard] Kunin’s 1989 analysis published in the Western Journal of Medicine, Chinese water-snake oil contains 20 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used by our bodies...[O]mega-3s are vital for human metabolism. Not only do they sooth inflammation in muscles and joints, but also, they can help “cognitive function and reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and even depression.
So then why do we associate snake oil with scams? Because con artists “caught wind of the miraculous muscle-soothing powers of snake oil,” and decided to sell their own “snake oil” products -- only minus the actual snakes.

So where you can you get the real deal? It's available at traditional Chinese pharmacies, and you can find it online. Or just head to Kiki's gym -- Orange Coast CrossFit. I'm sure what they carry is good quality stuff. And I really, really hope it comes bottled with a pickled cobra, 'cause it'd be hands-down the most badass product ever sold at a CrossFit box: