Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Radioactive Water As A Cure-All? A Look At Medical ‘Quackery’ That Didn’t Hold Up

An ad selling cocaine drops for tooth pain, from the book

Credit: Workman Publishing

Above: An ad selling cocaine drops for tooth pain, from the book "Quackery."

Radioactive Water As A Cure-All? A Look At Medical 'Quackery' That Didn't Hold Up

GUEST:

Nate Pedersen, co-author, "Quackery"

Transcript

There have been mavericks in the history of medicine whose crazy ideas have advanced the treatment of disease. Louis Pasteur, for example, championed the long-ridiculed theory that germs cause disease.

But there were the other kinds of medical mavericks who just had crazy ideas, like giving babies opiates to stop them from crying or eating tapeworms to lose weight. After the discovery of radium, there was even a spa in the Czech Republic where people could soak in radioactive water and breath irradiated air, all in the hopes that this new element could keep people healthy.

Dr. Lydia Kang, a practicing internist, and journalist Nate Pedersen compiled some of the most outlandish treatments in the new book, "Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything."

"Behind every misguided treatment—from Ottomans eating clay to keep the plague away to Victorian gents sitting in a mercury steam room for their syphilis to epilepsy sufferers sipping gladiator blood in ancient Rome—is the incredible power of the human desire to live," they write. "We are willing to ingest cadavers, subject ourselves to boiling oil, and endure experimental treatments involving way too many leeches, all in the name of survival."

Pedersen is speaking in San Diego Tuesday night as part of the Adventures By the Book series. He joined KPBS Midday Edition with more on wonder cures of the past and which have actually stood the test of time.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Midday Edition banner

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.