Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My cup runneth over

As a slightly-past-fifty-year-old, it will come as no surprise to you to hear that I'm seeing some gray hair, and a few more laugh lines than I had ten years ago.  Myself, I'd always thought of this as a natural consequence of reaching this venerated age.  Imagine my surprise when I learned this morning that gray hair and wrinkles are not caused by the death of melanin-producing cells in the hair follicles, and a decrease in the elasticity of the skin, respectively; no, both of these phenomena are caused by an imbalance of energy flow through your kidneys, and can be fixed by applying suction cups to your skin.

I wish I was making this up, but here's the source for this bit of medical wisdom, which comes from the tenets of a practice called "cupping."  The idea is that whatever ails you -- and I do mean whatever, because practitioners claim that cupping can cure everything from sciatica to constipation -- it is due to a combination of improper energy flow and pooling of toxins in the tissues, and it can all be set right by allowing a glass cup attached to a suction pump to give you a giant hickey.

At this site, we get some of our Frequently-Asked Questions answered.  Only "some," because my most frequently-asked questions while I was researching all this were, "Are you people kidding?  Or what?"  But we do find out, for example, that cupping is a "powerful detoxifying, pain relieving and energy building modality that people all over the world use for health maintenance" and can be used to treat "a huge number of conditions," including colds, abscesses, arthritis, insomnia, vertigo, high blood pressure, asthma, and hemorrhoids.  It works because it "drains stagnation."  And also, we shouldn't be worried about any bruising that occurs, because bruising is caused by "tissue compression/injury" and "(t)here is no compression in properly applied suction cup therapy."

No, you morons, of course there isn't.  Compression is the opposite of suction.  And both can cause bruising, which is localized rupture of capillaries.  But not to worry: the site linked above says that the greater the discoloration you see after the procedure, the more you needed it and the better it worked, because "the more (discoloration) is visible, the greater the level of stagnation and toxicity...  This is clearly the result of having internal unwanted toxins systematically purged."

But wait, you might be saying; how can this be drawing out "stagnation" from your body, when there's nothing actually crossing your skin and being sucked away by the suction cup, given that when you take the cup off the "patient's" skin, it's empty?  Well, someone thought of that, too, and they developed "wet cupping," in which they do the whole cupping procedure, but they cut your skin first.

Yes, folks, the cuppers have basically rediscovered bloodletting, a practice that was generally discontinued back in the 18th century, when it was discovered that an unfortunate side-effect was frequently the death of the patient.  But a little historical tragedy like that isn't going to stop these folks.  No way, not when cupping can have benefits like "facilitating the movement of Qi," "promoting the flow of lymphatic fluid," "breaking up and expelling congestion," and "balancing pH."

Now, of course, we've run into the phenomenon before that there's no woo-woo idea so ridiculous that someone can't improve it to make it even more ridiculous, so allow me to introduce you to the idea of "fire cupping."  In fire cupping, instead of being attached to a suction pump, the glass cup has a cotton ball saturated with rubbing alcohol placed into it and ignited, and then the hot cup is placed on the person's skin.  As the air cools, it contracts, and that creates the suction that pulls out the stagnant Qi energy lymph, or whatever the fuck they claim it's doing.  The problem is, hot things have an unfortunate side effect, namely burns, and there have been several cases of victims... oops, sorry, patients... having to be treated for circular burns after being "fire cupped."

Okay.  Let's just get a few things straight, here.  Disease is not caused by "energy stagnation."  If you apply a suction cup to your skin, you are accomplishing nothing but bursting a few capillaries and giving yourself a nice, symmetrical bruise.  Any "toxins" in your body are capable of being handled just fine by your kidneys, which incidentally have nothing whatsoever to do with gray hair.  There is no such thing as "qi."  And if you allow anyone with a glass cup containing a flaming cotton ball anywhere near you, you deserve everything you get.

So that's today's pseudoscience -- an idea which, in every sense of the word, sucks.  Amazing how after three years of writing daily on this blog, I'm still running into goofy ideas I'd never heard of before.  It's really kind of a depressing thought, isn't it?  Oh, wait -- depression is something that can be cured by cupping!  Yay!  If I show up later today with a giant circular bruise on the side of my head, don't worry -- it's just that I had all of those stagnant toxic thoughts removed by attaching a suction cup to my temple.


  1. At least the resulting bruise gives you an opportunity to test the healing power of melted chocolate.

  2. Gordon, I work in the medical field. You are spot on (as always).
    Increased blood flow to an area of your body can alleviate tension and remove some measure of toxicity, but you could probably achieve therapeutic perfusion from a hot bath at home, which would provide the benefits that cupping is attempting to create without the damage of bruising. The best and really only way to have an effect on your organs is by what you consume. Water, water, water, fruits & veg, lean meats.
    The only REAL benefit of cupping would be in the form of placebo. It should also be stated that one can place themselves into a serene state of mind for free.

    Tyler, that link was hilarious.

  3. Yuck. I thought this went out with leeches and the four humours.