Horribly Unhealthy Things People Used To Think Were Good For You

When your doctor is hovering over you with a 16-inch needle or writing you a scrip for a medication that will make you go bankrupt, it's hard not to ask questions. Sure, sickness doesn't get blamed on demonic possession anymore, infection control is the best it's ever been, and vaccines have saved the world from some awful diseases. But even today, nothing's perfect. Unhealthy people still get misdiagnosed, incorrect treatments are given, and greedy corporations have sunk their teeth into the pharmaceutical industry.

Scary stuff, but you know what's even scarier? Try looking at some of the medical operations, treatments, or prescriptions of the past. Across cultures, across centuries, unhealthy (but innocent) people have spent good money to undergo treatments that were far worse than the original condition. If you thought getting lidocaine shots was bad, imagine if you lived in an era where gums got slashed open, tongues were cut, and crocodile dung was used as a contraceptive. Yikes.

Back when stuttering was treated with mutilation

The history books contain many big names who have lived with stammering disorders, including Moses, King George VI, and Marilyn Monroe. Despite how common this condition is, stutterers still often have to deal with bullying. That's pretty horrible, considering that stuttering itself is often caused (or worsened) by anxiety and/or emotional trauma, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Though doctors today treat stuttering patients with compassion and understanding, doctors of the past responded in unimaginably brutal ways. For example, the Los Angeles Times lists tongue-blistering and electrical shocks among the disturbing treatments stutterers received. The worst operation of all was invented in 1841, according to the International Stuttering Association, when a Prussian surgeon named J.F. Dieffenbach pioneered the horror movie technique of cutting out a triangular wedge from people's tongues without general anesthesia. The first time he did this was on a poor 13-year-old boy. Though this gory technique seems to have been popular for a while, people eventually realized how ineffective it was, much to the relief of stutterers across the world.

Before Viagra, there were goat testicle transplants

Never underestimate the desperation of a man whose you-know-which isn't doing you-know-what. While impotence treatments have run the gamut from mystical rituals to metal coils to today's little blue pill, probably the worst period in phallic health were those years in the 20th century when a quack doctor offered to transplant goat testicles onto your body, according to Vice.

This goat doctor was John Richard Brinkley, and when he wasn't performing dicey surgeries, he was running an unsuccessful campaign for governor of Kansas. Brinkley was infamous for using booming, populist rhetoric to scam countless men into coming to his hospital and having their genitals mutilated. And no, stapling goat balls onto a human doesn't work, as if you really needed to ask. Sadly, far too many men with manhood anxieties fell for Brinkley's ball-oney, and the Kansas doctor scored millions of dollars. 

Luckily, the story didn't end there. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas says Brinkley's cons eventually caught up to him, and in 1941 he was sued into bankruptcy. This legal battle ended Brinkley's career, but it didn't fix the victims who'd suffered from his treatments. And hey, what about the poor goats?

A ridiculously restrictive 'rest cure'

Rest is a good thing. Yes, even if you're a workaholic, it's good to sometimes crash on the couch with some wine and Netflix. On the other hand, the so-called "rest cure" pioneered by Silas Weir Mitchell in the Victorian era was anything but restful. According to The Female Body in Western Culture, Mitchell's rest cure was primarily used to treat women who were perceived as being "nervous" or "hysterical" or perhaps too "independent" ... basically any woman who wasn't being docile and subservient to men. Remember, this was the 1800s, and societal norms were sexist as hell.

Though the rest cure was promoted as being good for the mind and good for the blood, it was usually nothing more than an insane power trip for male doctors, performed on unwilling female patients. A woman prescribed to a rest cure was mandated to six weeks (or more) of enforced bed rest, according to London's Science Museum. Patients weren't allowed to sit up, couldn't use their hands, and were toileted by nurses via bedpan. Friends and family members were forbidden from visiting. A constant stream of fatty dairy foods was pushed into a patient's mouth, often by force.

Basically, the rest cure was designed to turn adults into infants. Free-thinking women were at high risk of being prescribed a rest cure, and some of the more famous victims included feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman and author Virginia Woolf.

Brushing your teeth with tobacco paste

Brushing your teeth every morning and night might be one of the most annoying rituals in 21st-century life, but at least our mouths are not festering cesspools of rot, cavities, and disease. Toothpaste is the dental industry's magic bullet, and whatever brand you squeeze onto those bristles, you can be reasonably sure it's helping preserve your teeth.

Well, unless you were squeezing a toothpaste tube filled with tobacco. Yes, tobacco: the same stuff in cigarettes, which is about as bad for dental health as smearing your teeth with cotton candy every night. As reported by Indian newspapers, an unfortunate misconception spread throughout India for decades that tobacco was a great ingredient to put in your toothpaste or tooth powder. Not surprisingly, the practice of using tobacco toothpaste (better known as "creamy snuff") proved just as addictive as cigarettes, particularly among male schoolchildren, according to V. M. Sivaramakrishnan's Tobacco and Areca Nut. The tobacco toothpastes were finally outlawed in India in the 1990s.

Teething babies were 'soothed' with a knife

Teething is never fun, either for the kid or the parent. Dentists today don't make a big fuss over this natural process. It happens, it sucks, and then it's done. However, the dental industry of past centuries didn't always have such a kind outlook on these matters. Back in the good old days of 117 A.D., according to the British Dental Journal, Soranus of Ephesus suggested that when your kid started teething, the proper response was to rub chopped up rabbit's brain over the infant's gums. Yes, this really happened, and for whatever insane reason, this bizarre practice lasted for centuries. 

Not gross enough? Well, in the 1500s a surgeon named Ambriose Pare came up with the not-so-joyful idea of slicing open a kid's gums with a sharp knife to get the little teeth out, which sounds like something the Cenobites in Hellraiser would come up with. Then in 1764, Dr. John Theobald not only affirmed the whole gum-cutting nightmare, but also recommended putting leeches behind kids' ears. Though these horror stories might make the average person swear off dentists entirely, to quote Seinfeld, it's fair to say the dental industry ditched leeches a long time ago, so they've come a long way.

The Nazis thought crystal meth was healthy

Throughout history, there might be no regime as hideous or evil as the Nazis. However, while everyone knows Nazi Germany's moral values were utterly perverted, their health practices were just as sick. For example, NPR points out that back in the 1930s, a Berlin pharmaceutical company started selling a popular medicine called Pervitin, which was said to boost your alertness, make you perform better, and generally supercharge your day. Sounds great, right? Pervitin was sold across Germany as the best coffee substitute ever, and German soldiers loved the tablets so much that they fondly nicknamed it "tank chocolate" and "pilot's salt," according to The Atlantic

The problem? Pervitin was actually crystal meth, one of the most poisonous drugs on the planet. But Nazi Germany was so enthralled with Pervitin that the drug was freely distributed to the troops, meaning quite a number of Gestapo soldiers became meth heads. The biggest meth fan of all, though, might've been Adolf Hitler himself. According to the Independent, Hitler's manic hypochrondia led to him doing a lot of weird treatments, and by the end of his life, he received regular crystal meth injections.

Swallowing a tapeworm to lose weight

Unhealthy diet fads are still around today, but they used to be a whole lot creepier. For example, the BBC says advertisements have been found from the early 1900s promoting tapeworms. You know, those parasitic worms that grow to about 50 feet long and live in your stomach? Yeah. It should be obvious why this is a horrible idea, but at the turn of the 20th century, some people so badly wanted a beach bod that they legitimately gulped down pills containing tapeworm cysts, figuring the worm would digest their food for them. Aside from the fact that such a procedure is insanely dangerous, Vice points out that there's also no guarantee it would've caused weight loss, since many types don't actually do that.

So instead of slimming down, many tapeworm dieters probably experienced the following symptoms: uncontrollable diarrhea explosions, vomiting, headaches, permanent brain damage, eye damage, meningitis, dementia, anemia, epilepsy ... almost worth it, though, right?

Scary birth control methods from the past

For as long as human beings have enjoyed banging, they've been trying to figure out how to do it without the main side effect, offspring. These days, science has come up with a lot of effective methods, from IUDs to implants, but back in ancient times, contraceptives were way sketchier. For example, Mental Floss describes how women in medieval times actually tied severed weasel testicles around their necks or wore amulets made of mule's earwax, both of which sound more like ingredients in a dark magical brew than effective medical treatments. One of the least hygienic birth control methods of the past involved the insertion of a ball of clustered crocodile dung and honey. There were also methods involving donkey dung and elephant dung, in case you were afraid to ask.

Throughout all this, people were trying to figure out how to make male condoms work, according to Esquire. Animal intestine condoms finally hit the scene for good in the 1500s, and rubber condoms made their proud debut in the 1800s. The world of birth control (not to mention STD prevention) has been way happier ever since.

Using insulin to put you into a coma

Today, people diagnosed with schizophrenia are generally treated with a combination of medication and psychosocial therapy, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine says from the 1930s until nearly 1960, the dominant treatment was DICT: deep insulin coma therapy, wherein patients were induced into a coma on a near-daily basis through heavy injections of insulin.

Even at the height of its popularity, insulin coma therapy never produced effective results, but the treatment had the support of powerful people in the establishment. Most of the negative results were probably swept under the rug, according to the Psychiatric Bulletin, but there were enough confirmed deaths and brain injuries that a brave doctor named Harold Bourne finally sounded the alarm in 1953. Bourne's demand for more evidence put him at war with the powers-that-be, and though he was blacklisted at the time, his criticisms eventually led to the treatment falling out of practice, saving thousands of lives. Decades later, the scariness of DICT was famously depicted in the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, which shows mathematician John Nash undergoing the procedure.

They tried to fix bad behavior by cutting up people's brains

"Lobotomy" is a scary word in its own right, but it's far scarier to comprehend how widespread (and damaging) lobotomies really were in the mid-20th century. Back when the procedure was invented in 1936, it was never intended to become so popular. The Guardian says lobotomies were originally supposed to be used as a last resort for those with severe psychiatric illnesses, only to be performed if all other treatment had failed. But in the 1940s, lobotomies got into the hands of an American doctor named Walter Freeman, and things went haywire. 

Freeman transformed the lobotomy from a moonshot into a medical circus show, happily lobotomizing just about everyone who was brought to him, healthy or unhealthy. Rebellious kids? Check. Grandparents? Check. Freeman carved up people's brains with no apparent regard for the consequences, sometimes even showing off for onlookers by ice-picking both of the patient's eyes at the same time. Of Freeman's 3,400 lobotomies, 14 percent died, and the vast majority were either crippled or put into a permanent vegetative state. Very few went on to live normal lives. In the mid-1950s, lobotomies were finally replaced by more humane procedures like psychoanalysis, therapy, and medication, but not before approximately 40,000 lobotomies had been done in the United States, according to Wired. Horrifyingly enough, countries like the U.S. and England have still not outright banned lobotomies, though the USSR outlawed them as early as 1950, and Japan and Germany followed suit.