Snake oil is not the panacea that traveling con-artists once represented it to be. Because of its historic association with medical fraud, consumers and health care providers regard snake oil as a classic example of quackery and dishonest salesmanship.
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Despite its overwhelmingly negative reputation, snake oil may offer some legitimate health benefits. According to a report published in the Western Journal of Medicine, the oil of the Chinese water snake is an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). This compound shows promise as a nutritional supplement and holistic treatment for several conditions.
In traditional Chinese medicine, snake oil has been used for thousands of years to treat rheumatoid arthritis, burstitis and osteoarthritis. Modern scientific studies have validated this traditional use. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA, can relieve symptoms of stiffness and joint tenderness in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. However, EPA has not been studied thoroughly as a treatment for other forms of arthritis.
NIH reports that omega-3 fatty acids effectively reduce blood pressure. Practitioners of TCM may recommend snake oil as a holistic treatment for hypertension. However, EPA, found in snake oil, appears to be slightly less effective than its chemical cousin docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is found almost exclusively in fish fat. Most studies of omega-3 fatty acids have involved a combination of the two compounds.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a popular and effective treatment for hypertryglyeridemia, or high triglyceride levels. The National Institutes of Health and American Heart Association both recommend EPA for the prevention and treatment of this common condition. Chinese water snake oil can help to provide a reliable source for this critical nutrient.
Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. According to the NIH, EPA in snake oil can reduce a person's of heart attack and sudden death. Additionally, the American Heart Association notes that omega-3 fatty acids can slow the buildup of plaque in the arteries and prevent cardiac arrhythmia.
Emerging evidence suggests that EPA in fish oil may treat several forms of mental illness. According to the NIH, early studies support the use of EPA as a treatment for schizophrenia, depression and emotional disturbances. However, there is not enough clinical evidence to conclusively demonstrate the product's efficacy.
Snake oil is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for skin rashes from eczema. NIH notes that some studies have evaluated EPA's efficacy as a treatment for eczema, but they have yielded inconclusive results.