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Historic Medical Advice That Will Leave You Horrified

Radithor: Radioactive Water That Promised to Cure Everything from Arthritis to Impotence Radithor was a patent medicine that was popular in the United States in the… Alli Anderson - March 31, 2023

Radithor: Radioactive Water That Promised to Cure Everything from Arthritis to Impotence

Radithor was a patent medicine that was popular in the United States in the early 20th century. It was marketed as a cure for a wide range of ailments, including arthritis, impotence, and even cancer. The product was created by William J. A. Bailey, a self-proclaimed doctor, and was made from distilled water that was infused with radium and thorium. At the time, radium was a relatively new discovery and was believed to have numerous health benefits due to its perceived ability to stimulate the immune system and increase energy levels. Bailey marketed Radithor as a miracle cure that could treat virtually any ailment, and the product quickly gained popularity among the general public.


Many people believed that the product was effective, and it was even endorsed by famous figures of the time, including athletes and celebrities. However, the product’s true dangers were not widely known until later. Radithor contained extremely high levels of radiation, and prolonged use of the product led to serious health problems for many of its users. Several people who had consumed Radithor developed severe radiation poisoning, including one man who had to have his jaw removed due to the damage caused by the product. Despite the risks associated with Radithor, the product remained on the market until the 1930s when the U.S. government began to crack down on misleading and dangerous medical products.


Treating Mental Illness with Insulin Coma Therapy

Insulin coma therapy was a medical treatment for mental illness used in the early to mid-20th century. The treatment involved putting patients into a coma with insulin injections to decrease brain activity and alleviate symptoms of mental illness. During the procedure, patients were injected with insulin until their blood sugar levels dropped, which caused them to lose consciousness and enter a coma. Patients were then monitored closely by medical staff, and the coma was typically ended by administering glucose or other stimulants to raise the patient’s blood sugar levels.


While insulin coma therapy was initially believed to be an effective treatment for mental illness, it was also associated with numerous risks and complications. Patients undergoing the treatment were at risk of developing severe hypoglycemia, which could cause seizures, brain damage, and even death. The use of insulin coma therapy fell out of favor in the 1950s and 1960s as more effective and less risky treatments for mental illness became available, including medications such as antipsychotics and antidepressants. Today, insulin coma therapy is widely regarded as an outdated and dangerous practice, and it is no longer used as a treatment for mental illness.

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Hysteria and Vibrators: The Dangerous Belief That Women’s Health Problems Were All in Their Heads

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hysteria was a commonly diagnosed medical condition that was believed to affect primarily women. Symptoms of hysteria were broad and varied, ranging from anxiety and depression to physical symptoms such as muscle spasms and difficulty breathing. The cause of hysteria was attributed to a number of factors, including sexual repression, overstimulation of the nerves, and even a wandering uterus. One popular treatment for hysteria was the use of vibrators, which were initially used by doctors to stimulate the genitals of female patients to produce “hysterical paroxysm,” also known as orgasm. This was believed to release pent-up sexual tension and relieve symptoms of hysteria.

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However, the use of vibrators soon became popularized outside of the medical community, and many women began using them to treat their own symptoms at home. The idea that women’s health problems were all in their heads was a dangerous and inaccurate belief that persisted for many years. Women were often dismissed or not taken seriously when seeking medical treatment for their symptoms, which could lead to serious health consequences. The use of vibrators as a treatment for hysteria also had risks, as the devices were often poorly regulated and could cause injury or infection.

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Blister Beetles: The Application of Blisters to Treat Various Illnesses

Blistering agents are substances that are applied to the skin to cause a blister, which was believed to help treat various illnesses in the past. The practice of blistering, also known as vesiculation or vesicant therapy, dates back to ancient times, and it was used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, and rheumatism. The application of blistering agents involves the use of substances such as cantharidin, which is derived from the blister beetle, or mustard oil, which is obtained from the seeds of the mustard plant.

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The blistering agent is applied to the skin, causing a blister to form within a few hours. The blister is then drained, and the area is dressed with a bandage. While blistering was believed to be a beneficial treatment in the past, it is now considered to be a dangerous and outdated practice. Blisters can lead to infection, scarring, and other complications, and there is little evidence to support the use of blistering agents in treating illnesses.

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Infecting Patients With Malaria to Treat Complications From Syphilis

For centuries, heat was used to treat mental illness, as it was believed that fever could have a calming effect on epileptics and those suffering from melancholy. In 1917, Julius Wagner Jauregg, an Austrian neuropsychiatrist, discovered the therapeutic value of malaria inoculation in the treatment of dementia paralytica, a complication of syphilis. Patients were injected with malaria and treated with quinine as soon as the syphilis was cured. This treatment was followed in a hospital under strict monitoring of the patients’ vital signs and regular laboratory tests.


Wagner Jauregg’s therapy was highly admired and used for neurosyphilis cases until the 1950s. While malaria therapy was effective in some cases, it was also dangerous and carried significant risks. Malaria itself can be a life-threatening illness, and the treatment required careful monitoring and management to ensure that patients did not develop severe complications. However, with the introduction of penicillin in syphilis treatment, fever therapy became less common. Wagner Jauregg’s study led to all the methods of stress therapy used in psychiatry, such as electric shock and insulin.


Blood Transfusions with Animal Blood: Believed to Cure Various Ailments

Blood transfusions with animal blood were used in the past as a medical treatment for various ailments, despite being ineffective and often dangerous. The first recorded attempt at a blood transfusion was performed in the 17th century, but it was not until the 19th century that animal blood transfusions began to be used more widely. At the time, it was believed that animal blood had special properties that could help cure human illnesses. The most commonly used animal for blood transfusions was the sheep, as its blood was thought to be similar to human blood.

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In the mid-17th century, the first recorded successful blood transfusion occurred in England when physician Richard Lower kept dogs alive by transfusing blood from other dogs. Two years later, in 1667, Jean-Baptiste Denis in France and Richard Lower in England separately reported successful transfusions from lambs to humans. However, these transfusions often caused severe reactions in patients, such as fever, chills, and sometimes death. It was not until the discovery of blood types and the development of proper blood transfusion techniques that the practice of using animal blood for human transfusions was abandoned in favor of human blood transfusions.

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Horseshoe Crab Blood: Used to Test for Bacterial Contamination in Medical Supplies

This one is not a treatment for people. But a shocking revelation, nonetheless. Horseshoe crab blood contains a special clotting agent called Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) which can detect bacterial endotoxins in medical supplies such as vaccines, intravenous drugs, and medical implants. Bacterial endotoxins are substances produced by certain types of bacteria that can cause severe reactions in humans if present in medical supplies. The LAL test, which was first developed in the 1970s, is a quick and accurate way to detect the presence of these endotoxins.

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To obtain the LAL from horseshoe crabs, the crabs are captured and taken to a laboratory where a small amount of their blood is extracted. The crabs are then released back into the wild. The blood is processed to extract the LAL, which is then used in the testing of medical supplies. Although the harvesting of horseshoe crab blood does not harm the crabs, it can be stressful for them and some do not survive the process. Efforts are being made to develop synthetic alternatives to LAL, but these have not yet been widely adopted. In the meantime, the horseshoe crab population is carefully monitored and efforts are made to minimize the impact of the harvesting process on their numbers.

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Treating Baldness with Monkey Testicle Implants

In the early 20th century, a doctor named Serge Voronoff popularized a surgical procedure for treating baldness that involved transplanting small pieces of monkey testicles into the human scrotum. Voronoff believed that the testicles contained a hormone that could stimulate hair growth and slow down the aging process. He claimed that his procedure, which he called “glandular transplantation,” could not only cure baldness but also improve a patient’s libido, boost vitality, and cure constipation.

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Despite its questionable medical basis, Voronoff’s procedure gained popularity among the wealthy and famous, including royalty, politicians, and celebrities. Some even underwent the procedure multiple times, hoping to experience the rejuvenating effects that Voronoff promised. However, there was no scientific evidence to support Voronoff’s claims, and the procedure eventually fell out of favor as more effective and reliable treatments for baldness were developed. Today, the procedure is viewed as a prime example of the kind of quackery that was prevalent in the early days of modern medicine.

Berkeley Political Review.

Forced Sterilization: The Eugenic Belief That Some People Shouldn’t Reproduce

Forced sterilization is a practice of permanently preventing an individual from reproducing without their consent. This barbaric practice has been employed in various cultures and societies throughout history for different reasons, ranging from religious and cultural beliefs to controlling the population. However, it gained significant prominence during the eugenics movement, which was popular in the early 20th century. Eugenics was a pseudo-scientific ideology that aimed to improve the human race through selective breeding and controlled reproduction. Eugenicists believed that certain groups of people were genetically inferior and should be prevented from reproducing to prevent the passing of “undesirable” traits to future generations.


Forced sterilization was a central part of eugenic policy, and it was commonly applied to those deemed “unfit” to have children, including people with mental and physical disabilities, the poor, and minorities. The practice was widely implemented in countries such as the United States, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and Japan, among others. It was often carried out under the guise of medical treatment, and victims were often not aware of the irreversible procedure they were undergoing. The practice of forced sterilization declined after World War II due to its association with Nazi Germany and the exposure of its human rights violations. Today, forced sterilization is considered a violation of human rights, and its use is highly regulated and restricted in most countries.


Bloodletting: The Belief That Draining Blood Could Cure Any Illness

Bloodletting is a well-known historic medical practice. It involves the removal of blood from a patient’s body to treat a variety of illnesses. The practice can be traced back to ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians and Greeks, who believed that health was maintained by balancing the four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Bloodletting was believed to restore balance by removing excess blood, which was thought to cause illnesses such as fever, headaches, and inflammation.

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In the Middle Ages, bloodletting became a popular treatment for many different ailments, and the practice continued well into the 19th century. Physicians used various methods to perform bloodletting, including leeches, lancets, and cupping. Leeches were particularly popular in the 19th century because they were believed to remove blood without causing pain or injury to the patient. Despite its widespread use, bloodletting was eventually discredited as an effective medical practice, and its use declined in the early 20th century as new medical discoveries and treatments emerged.


Electroshock Therapy: The Controversial Treatment for Mental Illnesses

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also known as electroshock therapy, is a medical procedure that involves inducing a controlled seizure in a patient by administering electric shocks to the brain. It was first introduced in the 1930s as a treatment for severe mental illnesses, including depression and schizophrenia, and was widely used until the 1960s. The procedure is still used today, but only as a last resort when other treatments have failed. While the exact mechanism of action is not fully understood, it is thought that the seizures triggered by ECT can alter brain chemistry and improve symptoms of mental illness. Despite its potential benefits, ECT has been the subject of controversy due to reports of negative side effects, including memory loss and brain damage.


The use of ECT has been a subject of debate among mental health professionals and patients alike. Supporters argue that it is a safe and effective treatment for severe mental illnesses that can significantly improve quality of life. Critics, however, argue that it is an outdated and potentially harmful procedure that should be replaced by newer, less invasive treatments. While ECT remains a viable treatment option for some patients, the potential risks and benefits should be carefully considered before undergoing the procedure.

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Mercury Vapor Inhalation: Believed to Cure Syphilis and Tuberculosis

Mercury has been used for medicinal purposes for over 2,500 years. Mercury vapor inhalation was believed to be an effective treatment for various diseases such as syphilis and tuberculosis from the 16th to the 19th century. It was thought to work by stimulating the body’s defenses and promoting sweating. Patients were often given mercury to take orally as well as to inhale the vapor. Despite its popularity, the treatment was often ineffective and potentially harmful, with long-term exposure to mercury vapor leading to symptoms such as tremors, irritability, and damage to the nervous system.

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Despite the potential dangers, mercury vapor inhalation was widely used until the 20th century, when safer and more effective treatments for syphilis and tuberculosis were developed. The use of mercury in medicine has since been largely phased out, and the dangers of mercury exposure are now well-known. However, mercury vapor inhalation remains an important part of medical history, highlighting the risks and limitations of medical treatments and the importance of evidence-based medicine.

Atlas Obscura.

Tobacco Enemas: The Bizarre “Cure” for Everything from Headaches to Typhoid

The history of tobacco enemas is a fascinating and bizarre chapter in the evolution of medicine. The practice first gained popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, during a time when medical treatments were often based on theories and beliefs rather than scientific evidence. It was believed that tobacco smoke could cure a wide range of illnesses, from headaches to typhoid fever. Physicians would administer tobacco smoke through the rectum using a specially designed enema kit, often with dubious results.

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One of the earliest advocates of tobacco enemas was an eccentric physician named James Graham. Graham believed that tobacco enemas could cure everything from cancer to cholera and touted the treatment as a panacea for all ailments. He even established a “Temple of Health” in London, where he would offer tobacco enemas to his patients, along with other unorthodox treatments, such as electric shocks and hydrotherapy. Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support the practice, tobacco enemas gained popularity in the medical community and were used to treat a variety of conditions, including constipation, respiratory infections, and even drowning. The use of tobacco enemas eventually declined as more effective treatments became available, but their bizarre history continues to fascinate and amuse.