America’s long and embarrassing history of quack medicine

America's long and embarrassing history of quack medicine

Strange but true

April 22, 2023 | 7:41

In the 1950s, Oklahoma pastor Charlie Shedds’ book convinced readers that it was possible to pray for weight loss, while in the 1920s, men paid North Carolina native John Brinkley $750 to have testicles of goat sewn into their scrotums in hopes of increasing their sexual prowess.

Then there was the Hager Medical Company in Indiana, which told women they could cure any vaginal ailment with a generous application of Oak Balm suppositories (which consisted of boric acid, alum, cocoa, and butter, with a side of contempt ), as author Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling writes in If It Sounds Like A Quack: A Journey to the Fringes of American Medicine (PublicAffairs).

Indeed, there is a long and not exactly noble American tradition in the pursuit of groundbreaking medical breakthroughs, with each new proponent eschewing accepted science in favor of something new, different, and often very dangerous.

Not much has changed.

Indeed, thanks to the Internet and people’s predilection for self-diagnosis, it’s perhaps easier than ever to mislead the populace, even with the Food and Drug Administration keeping a close eye on developments.

Leeches were thought to be a cure for many ailments in the Middle Ages.

If It Sounds Like A Quack examines the cases of those individuals who all believed they had discovered the one true cure.

With wild and varied methods like leeches and laser beams, they are all people who, writes Hongoltz-Hetling, have embarked on journeys to the furthest reaches of health and healing.

And the results are truly disturbing.


Jim Humble may have looked like a small white Alabaman in his 60s, but his real-life story was, he claimed, actually quite different.

He did not see himself as a straight, white, male, human Earthman, writes Hongoltz-Hetling.

He was an ancient alien god from the Andromeda Galaxy.

It was also over a billion years old.

Jim Humble believed he was an ancient alien god from the Andromeda Galaxy and his panacea was called Miracle Mineral Solution, which was made from the bleaching agent chlorine dioxide.

The aliens’ mission on earth, Humble said, was to end disease forever, which is why he gave the world his health drink, Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) in 1996.

Made with the industrial bleaching agent chlorine dioxide, it supposedly penetrated the body’s cells, killing whatever disease lurked inside.

It worked on cancer and malaria, and the alien in Humbles’ skin soon discovered that the health drink cured diabetes, AIDS, erectile dysfunction in fact, pretty much anything.

His only problem was getting it to market, the result, he believed, of Big Pharma squashing him.

Penniless and on Social Security, he was also experiencing what Earthlings called cash flow problems and had no idea how to market his product. Nothing in his billion-year existence had prepared him to create a website, Hongoltz-Hetling said.

He also believed that users’ reactions to MMS, typically vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, were a sign that the medicine was working.

Countless people have gotten sick after taking it. Some were hospitalized. Some have even died.

Humble even started his own Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, using MMS as a sacrament.

Others have simply called it the Church of Bleach.

He left the church in 2015 when he fell out with his co-founder and moved to Guadalajara, Mexico. No one has seen him since, though he still maintains his website.

Larry Lytle said his revolutionary QLasers could treat virtually any medical problem.
HealingLightQ/ YouTube


Developed by Larry Lytle, a dentist in Rapid City, SD, the revolutionary QLaser Universal Healing System could treat almost any medical ailment.

From deafness to diabetes, cancer to AIDS, all you had to do was turn it on and point it to the pain.

You might even use it to treat psychological diagnoses (perhaps a prerequisite for clients, writes Hongoltz-Hetling).

According to its inventor, there was no limit to what he could achieve.

In a particularly bold move, Lytle touted lasers as suitable for treating any unknown condition, the author adds.

One customer claimed to have blinded himself with one of Lytles lasers.
HealingLightQ/ YouTube

Lytles’ lasers sold for between $4,295 and $12,600, and he claimed they worked by shooting light directly into human cells, restoring lost or damaged electrons to perfect health.

While Lytles’ business was booming, he sold about 20,000 lasers mostly to elderly customers, earning more than $16 million in online and mail-order sales between 2010 and 2015 alone, it was undone when a customer complained he went blind. with one of the lasers, alerting the FDA.

He wasn’t the only one.

When Lytle was prosecuted for fraud in 2017, a 15-year-old girl testified, explaining how her mother gave up cancer treatment, believing the QLaser would cure her. Instead, she died.

In 2018, Lytle, aged 83, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.


Toby McAdam, a divorcee from Livingston, Mont., had tried his hand at many jobs, not the least of which was running for governor of the Big Sky State under the Hamlet-like slogan: Toby or no Toby.

But as Hongoltz-Hetling explains, the campaign collapsed when he failed to qualify for the runoff, but by then the local newspaper had sued him for not paying child support since 1988.

Toby McAdam sold his supplement brand Rising Sun, advising his customers to burn skin cancer off their bodies.
Toby McAdam/YouTube

But it was his search for the one true cure that consumed him.

When McAdam’s mother Frances was diagnosed with lung cancer, she set out to find a natural way to help her. While researching her, she learned how the plant’s bloodweed contained a chemical compound called berberine that could inhibit the growth of a tumor.

So he made capsules and gave them to his mother.

When his mother had a stroke and died, McAdam couldn’t understand why they didn’t work.

Then she found all the tablets he had given her.

Her main conclusion was that the full bottles proved that the stroke only came because she was not on her meds, writes Hongoltz-Hetling.

But with her dying breath, Frances had given him new purpose.

The McAdams product line contained the bloodroot flower.

He, Toby McAdam, had discovered that his herbal concoctions were the only real cure.

Soon, McAdam launched his own Rising Sun supplement brand, selling a range of blood root oils, ointments, tonics, tinctures, and even toothpastes.

One of his first real successes was an ointment, which had a caustic property that meant it (like zombies) could eat human flesh, writes the author.

Toby has advised his clients to use his ointment to burn skin cancer off their bodies.

When the author met with him, for example, McAdam told him: I’ve dealt with a thousand people with cancer, adding that he had a 98% success rate.

Like Lytle, the FDA soon took notice, purchasing its products anonymously online to gather evidence. The FDA has become its biggest client, writes Hongoltz-Hetling.

In the 1920s, some men believed that sewing goat testicles into their scrotums would increase their sexual prowess.

Undercover agents purchased Old Amish Dewormer Original Formula (for fighting parasites and cancer); bought CanFree Internal Formula capsules (shown positive benefits in the battle against cancer); have bought Anemia Formula (anemia and sore throat and also purifies the blood); have bought Kavakosh for epilepsy/depression (to act on the brain [sic] limbic system); purchased ADD/ADHD Support, Amazonian Analgesia, Arthritis Support, and twelve other products.

In short, enough to shut down McAdam.

McAdam agreed to cease trading, but didn’t.

Eventually, the FDA caught up with him again, and in 2015, McAdam pleaded guilty to violating two court orders barring him from selling dietary supplements. He was jailed for four months and ordered to pay $80,000 in damages and nearly $5,000 in attorneys’ fees.


Devout Pentecostal Christians Dale and Leilani Neumann didn’t need doctors not when they had Jesus Christ at hand.

The couple from Weston, Wis., believed that all illnesses had spiritual causes and that prayer and faith were the only effective ways to cure them.

It had definitely worked for Dale.

Devout Pentecostal Christians Dale and Leilani Neumann believed in praying on pills.

After a decade of chiropractic treatment for persistent back pain, he instead sought a more elevated form of treatment, writes Hongoltz-Hetling.

The rest of the family also benefited. Their children found they could pray away colds as Leilani’s allergies and anxiety disappeared every time she prayed.

It was so successful that they convinced themselves that prayer, not medical science, was the only real cure, writes the author.

If It Sounds Like A Quack examines the cases of those individuals who all believed they had discovered the one true cure.

That wasn’t all. Dale and Leilani soon took that reasoning one step further. If God was willing to cure their ills, was not seeking a doctor instead of God a blasphemous insult? adds Hongoltz-Hetling.

In March 2008, however, their daughter, Kara, fell ill.

Believing she was under some form of spiritual seizure, Leilani Neumann summoned as many people as she knew to pray for her, rather than taking her to a doctor. Leilani’s father suggested that she give Kara Pedialyte; Leilani replied that doing so would take away from God’s glory, writes the author.

On March 23, Kara Neumann died. She was 11 years old. Later, it was revealed that she suffered from undiagnosed diabetes.

The Neumanns, meanwhile, were reportedly found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years’ probation.

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