Essayist and website developer, Paul Graham, once argued that if you believe everything your are “supposed” to believe for the time in which you are living, then you would also be likely to believe the conventional wisdom in any time period – even in Nazi Germany or the Middle Ages. When it comes to health topics, we can see how easily this can happen. How many people fall for the latest diet fad or health trend, only to drop it for an even easier or more interesting trend later? We are, after all, social creatures easily swayed by public opinion and marketing, just like any generation before us.
Here are a couple of “health” trends from the past that turned out to be not so good for us after all:
The Royal Society of Medicine estimates that tobacco still kills about 3 million people worldwide per year. But up until very recently the public was assured that smoking was harmless and even “doctor recommended.” In a 1946 ad, Lucky Strike Cigarettes claimed that over 20,000 physicians endorsed their product as “throat protection.” In an even more ridiculous ad from 1937, Camel Cigarettes declared their product was a digestive aid. Today the alternative to smoking is vaping, but will generations after us look back on E-Cigarettes the way we see traditional smoking today? And will class action lawsuits be required to change public opinion and the laws on these as well?
It seems ridiculous to think that anyone would every consider cocaine to be a healthy product, but it had several medical uses that were (at the time) unparalleled and legitimate. Surgeons in the late 1800s could use it to help a patient through eye surgery by numbing and paralyzing the eye. Later, cocaine became a popular over-the-counter cure for many ailments. Advertisements (and doctors) claimed that cocaine could cure pain, nervousness, indigestion and even hemorrhoids. Of course, we now know the dangers of this highly addictive drug and the sudden death it can cause. But how different is cocaine from the popular energy drinks used today? The caffeine levels in these drinks are at dangerous enough levels to cause sudden cardiac arrest if overused, much like cocaine. So will today’s energy drinks become the cocaine of the future?
Obviously, these are extreme cases. But the question still remains – which health trends are we participating in now will turn out to be famous killers of the future?