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.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Tater treatment

One of the posts here at Skeptophilia that has garnered the most consistent attention is a piece I did back in 2013 about the catastrophically silly practice of putting onions in your socks when you're ill in order to "draw fever to your feet" (or "purify the blood" or "get rid of toxins" or a variety of other unsubstantiated magical-thinking type claims).

On the one hand, I'm a little distressed that this assertion is still out there, when anyone who has beyond a 9th grade science education should be able to recognize it as bullshit.  But on the other hand, at least some of the people who are doing a Google search for "onions socks fever" land on my website, and hopefully don't spend the next few days with their feet smelling even worse than usual.

So I was a little shocked to find out that the onion/socks claim has been superseded.  No, the alt-med crowd are now saying, you shouldn't put onions in your socks to get rid of your cold.  That would be silly.

What you should do is put potatoes in your socks.

Here's an example of this claim:
Growing up, my parents always used potatoes in our socks for fevers. This past year, I had a fever of 102 that wouldn't drop after 2 days. I put potatoes in the fridge for 30 minutes, then sliced them, put them in my socks and started a movie. By the end of the movie my temperature had dropped to 99.9 and the potatoes were baked! After this treatment, the fever did not rise again. Cheap and healthy cure.
Okay, if you had already had the fever for two days, chances are you were probably getting well in any case. This is a fine example of the Post Hoc Fallacy -- from the Latin "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" ("After this, therefore because of this"). Just because two things happened one after the other doesn't mean that the first one caused the second one.

Oh, and you can bake a potato by keeping it at 102 degrees for an hour and a half?  Hell, I wish I'd known that years ago.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

But this loopy claim isn't even the weirdest iteration of the potatoes-in-socks thing.  I found a bunch of sites that said you're supposed to put not sliced potatoes, but grated potatoes into your socks.

Here are some variants on that theme:
  • Wash one or two potatoes and grate them, without peeling. Apply this paste on the soles of your feet, and then put your socks on. The potato will absorb the temperature and improve your condition.
  • Potatoes contain natural anti-inflammatory properties and enzymes that can help reduce a fever. To benefit from potatoes you need to mash or grate them and mix in some cold water before applying them to the forehead for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Potatoes are a great ally when it comes to lowering fever. You can use them grated or sliced. One solution is to grate a potato and to fill with it the inside of a pair of socks.  You are advised to use cotton socks because a synthetic textile fibre may cause heating and you don’t want this in the case of fever. After you filled the socks with the grated potato, put your child’s socks on. 
Let me just clarify something. Even if potatoes did have magical anti-inflammatory enzymes, you would not gain anything by smooshing them all over your feet, for the very good reason that that's not how humans absorb nutrients. If you doubt this, the next time you have lasagna for dinner, instead of putting forkfuls into your mouth, put the lasagna dish on the floor and stick both feet into it.

Wait for a half-hour. My guess is after that time, you will notice two things:
  1. You will still be hungry. 
  2. Your family will be seriously pissed at you for sticking your feet into the dinner. 
So there's nothing to this claim, and it's a little disheartening that I even have to point this out. Just to forestall further idiocy, let me just preemptively state that you also can't treat arthritis by smearing peanut butter on your ass, or any other weird food + random body part = health claim you might see.

But that's not going to stop people from asserting it, and it will probably continue to generate hits on my blog, lo until the end of time. So thanks for that, anyhow.

No comments:

Post a Comment