Weirdest Alternative Health Products and Practices

When conventional medicine fails to cure what ails, some people turn to alternative health measures. Strange ones

Credit: Flickr/*debris*

Neti pots, which flush out your sinuses, are gaining in popularity

When conventional medicine fails to cure what ails, some people turn to alternative health measures

Many of the alternative health products and practices on this list originated thousands of years ago. Some have recently been made fashionable by celebrities or have been adopted by mainstream medicine. And others, although warned as dangerous pseudoscience by the scientific community, have been deemed effective by people who may be slightly removed from reality. All of them are at least a little bit weird.

1. Homeopathy

Image: Flickr / incurable_hippie

Sometimes there are things science just can’t explain. One of those things is homeopathy. A recent investigation by CBC Marketplace revealed that there were only trace amounts, if any, of the supposed medicinal ingredients in homeopathic remedies prescribed to patients. But that’s precisely the point. 

Developed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s, homeopathy is based on two principles: the law of minimum dose and the law of like cures like. The law of minimum dose requires that substances are diluted again and again and again. Homeopathic practitioners believe that “the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness.” The law of like cures like is based on the principle that the remedy for an illness contains components that would cause the illness in a healthy person. Scientists say homeopathy is a placebo. Believers say it’s a mystery but it works.

2. Ear Candling

Image: Flickr /

Ear candling is said to remove wax from the ears and improve overall health by withdrawing impurities, but Health Canada says it’s “dangerous and has no proven medical benefits.”

Patients lay on their side while one end of a hollow candle is placed in the ear and the other end is lit on fire, which allegedly causes suction of wax out of the ear canal. Twenty-one cases of serious injury from ear candling were documented in a 1996 report highlighted by the United States Food and Drug Administration. They included temporary hearing loss, a perforated ear drum, and varying degrees of burns.

3. Cupping

Image: Flickr / SuperFantastic

Cupping, also known as fire cupping, has been practiced for thousands of years and involves placing cups on the skin that create a vacuum and suck skin up into the cup.

According to Chinese medicine practitioners this causes the movement of energy and body fluids, like blood and lymph, and can benefit a host of ailments from poor circulation to digestive troubles to aches and pains. According to images of Gwyneth Paltrow, who has tried the procedure, it also creates huge bruises that could be mistaken for hickies.

4. Psychic Surgery

Psychic surgery originated in the Philippines and claims to remove diseased tissue, foreign objects or evil spirits by way of practitioners who reach into the patient’s body, remove the offending items, and close up the wound without leaving a mark.

But not surprisingly, it turns out to be more of a magic trick than medical miracle. The United States Federal Trade Commission called it a “total hoax” and the arrest of a psychic surgeon in Ontario revealed that sleight of hand and animal blood and organs were used to trick hundreds of patients out of thousands of dollars and into believing they had been cured from their diseases.

5. Trepanation

Image: Flickr / carlosfpardo

Trepanation, or trepanning, is the procedure whereby pressure in the head is relieved (or evil spirits released) by drilling a small hole in the skull. It has been around for thousands of years as evidenced by trepanned skulls discovered to be more than 7,000 years old.

This practice is still used in modern medicine for relieving intracranial pressure due to brain trauma, and some in search of enlightenment believe that drilling a hole in the skull will help achieve a new level of spiritual awakening by “opening the third eye.”

6. Hirudotherapy  

Image: Flickr / Oakley Originals

Hirudotherapy involves the use of medicinal leeches and, although leeches have been used for thousands of years for a wide range of ailments, they are currently applied in reconstructive surgery to help reattach severed body parts.

Leeches’ saliva contains chemicals that improve blood flow to the damaged tissue and have anticoagulant properties, which helps new tissue grow and capillaries regenerate. Demi Moore admitted to David Letterman (see video) that she also recruited the help of some “high level blood suckers” in a treatment that she claims detoxifies the blood. 

7. Maggot Debridement Therapy

Image: Flickr / benleto

Maggot therapy, also known as maggot debridement therapy (debridement is the removal of dead and damaged tissue), is a US FDA-approved treatment that uses maggots to remove necrotic flesh in cases such as diabetic ulcers, burns or gangrene. Medicinal maggots, which are blowfly larvae, only eat rotting flesh and further work to help heal wounds by secreting antibacterial chemicals.

Maggot therapy was used during WWI to treat wounds before antibiotics were widely available but lost popularity with the advent of more advanced medical techniques. It has since seen a comeback with doctors turning to it when antibiotics have been ineffective.
National Geographic Video:

8. Bee Sting Therapy

Image: Flickr / Shawn Caza

Apitherapy is the medical use of honeybee products, including honey, pollen, royal jelly and venom – used in bee sting therapy.

Bee sting therapy has become an alternative treatment for patients suffering from debilitating diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and arthritis, with practitioners touting the anti-inflammatory properties of melittin, a component of bee venom. Although many patients swear by the treatment’s effectiveness (watch this video of one MS sufferer who is stung hundreds of times per week) the MS Society of Canada does not endorse it.

9. Neti Pots

Image: Flickr / *debris*

A neti pot looks like a little teapot and is used to clear out the sinuses. Saline solution from the pot is poured into the nose through one nostril, irrigating the nasal cavity, and comes out of the other nostril.

The treatment, which is hundreds of years old, recently saw a surge in popularity after being featured on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show where medical expert Dr. Oz said it was effective at relieving sinus pain and congestion. But this treatment doesn’t come without risks: an ABC News story reported that overuse of the neti pot could leave users prone to sinus infections.

If you are indeed brave enough to try any these natural health remedies, one thing proponents of alternative health care do agree on is that until scientific evidence for their efficacy is unearthed, you’re best to ingest a large does of faith along with them.