Diet goggles, weight loss cigarettes, and 9 more bizarre health scams from American history
Vision-Dieter glasses claimed to reduce food cravings.
The Arkansas man who “invented” this product in the 1970s claimed that they used “secret European color technology” to curb cravings and hunger pangs. Obviously, they could do no such thing, and most of the glasses were destroyed by the FDA.
Lash-Lure eyelash dye caused “degeneration of the eyeballs.”
Lash-Lure eyelash dye promised that users would “radiate personality.” What the ads didn’t say was that the active ingredient contained a poison that could cause “degeneration of the eyeballs” and blindness. One person even died after using the product.
Luckily, the dye was taken off the market and the FDA banned all future use of the toxic ingredient.
This company sold “easy to swallow” tapeworms as a weight loss aid.
This ad, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century, claimed that a handy jar of tapeworms could help people “Eat! Eat! Eat! And always stay thin!”
To be fair, tapeworm infestations do result in weight loss — but other possible side effects include nausea, weakness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, bacterial infections, and even seizures, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The manufacturers of this pipe claimed their product could erase the risk of lung cancer from smoking.
In a 1960 congressional hearing, FDA commissioner George Larrick used this product to illustrate the agency’s need for fraud-fighting funds.
The “Orgone Energy Accumulator” was so egregious, its creator was thrown in jail.
Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich believed in the existence of a “universal healing force” called orgone. (Spoiler alert: It’s not a real thing.) So in 1939, after relocating from Europe to Long Island, New York, he invented the Orgone Energy Accumulator, pictured above. The device, Reich claimed, could gather up and administer concentrated doses orgone to people. He believed it could cure colds, arthritis, ulcers, and even cancer.
The claims were so egregious that the FDA told Reich to stop selling the devices, and when he didn’t, he was sentenced to prison time.
One physician claimed that rubbing the body with a metal rod could relieve pain.
Back in the late 1700s, physician Elisha Perkins invented the “Tractor.” He claimed the small metal rod could relieve rheumatism, gout, and various aches by drawing out “noxious electrical fluids.” All you had to do was stroke it along the affected body part. The sales pitch for the product was apparently so convincing that George Washington ordered a set.
But later scientific studies determined that the Tractor’s “healing” ability was nothing more than the placebo effect, and eventually, sales died down.
“Banbar” was used by many people to treat diabetes. Unfortunately, it didn’t actually work.
By the mid-1920s, the FDA explains, insulin was the standard for treating diabetes. But a number of patients ditched insulin in favor of Banbar, the tonic pictured here. That choice proved fatal for many.
The FDA brought the maker of the tonic to court, but lost the case, since it appeared that the he really believed that the product worked.
The “Oscilloclast” claimed to cure all manner of diseases.
Dr. Albert Abrams believed that all diseases resulted from a “disharmony of electronic oscillations in the body,” whatever that means. So (surprise, surprise) he invented a device that could “fix” things.
According to Abrams, the Oscilloclast “played back” electronic waves into the body, thus “creating harmony” and eradicating diseases. In the 1950s, the FDA prosecuted Abrams over the false claims.