DETROIT LAKES, Minnesota — It was only under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 that, for the first time, drugs had to be proven safe and approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration before products can be marketed.
Before that, products could be advertised to miraculously cure a range of diseases and ailments. Some of these products were advertised in local community newspapers, such as the Detroit Record, a precursor to the Detroit Lakes Tribune.
Ronica Wahl, a family nurse practitioner from Sanford Health with 15 years of experience, said modern medicine has come a long way in terms of antibiotics, surgeries and other treatment options, which makes these miracle cures rather amusing from the past.
“Our medical knowledge changes, it evolves, we update guidelines,” Wahl said. “We started working from evidence-based medicine, so from studies and not just doing things because it works anecdotally. It’s because we know it’s been studied and tested and c is the best way to go.”
Here are some classic “miracle cure” ads, along with modern scientific truth.
As announced in the Detroit Record of January 20, 1905, Ayer’s Hair Vigor “controls hair loss, causes hair to grow, completely cures dandruff, and always restores color to gray hair.”
In publicity testimonial from Rebecca Allen, of Elizabeth, NJ, she said: “My hair always fell badly and I was afraid I would lose it all. Then I tried Ayer’s Hair Vigor. It stopped the hair quickly. fall and made my hair all I could want it to be.”
Wahl said current treatment options for thinning hair aren’t as simple as Ayer’s would have you believe. Surgical implants, Rogaine and generic Minoxidil are the best treatment options today. However, Rogaine and Minoxidil are only recommended for men, as some of the components react to the high level of estrogen in women and can cause serious side effects.
“Some women, once you hit a certain age, if they’re not of childbearing age, they’re able to take it,” she said.
Peruna tablets have “helped thousands” and are an “enemy of catarrh,” according to a Sept. 26, 1916, announcement, Detroit Record. Chronic catarrh is an excessive buildup of mucus in the nose or throat.
According to the ad: “(Peruna Tablets) energizes the system, re-energizes the membranes and allows them to perform their functions. In many cases, its benefits begin immediately.”
Wahl said currently, phlegm buildup can be caused by a variety of reasons.
“Often, phlegm is a symptom of viruses, allergic rhinitis, or similar allergies,” Wahl said. “In this case, antihistamines, like Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, Benadryl at night, those things can actually reduce the amount of phlegm you have.”
Dr. Fenner’s Kidney and Backache Cure
This miracle cure boasted of being good enough to treat multiple bodily systems at once.
According to a testimony in the Detroit Record advertisement (December 16, 1904): “Now the first bottle did not prevent those who had back pain, but it gave me great relief. The second bottle, however, finally put an end Sometimes they came back when strenuous business exhausted physical strength, but a dose or two of Dr. Fenner’s Cure brought instant relief.
Wahl said if a person suffers from muscular or skeletal back pain and then pain from a kidney stone, there is no magic bullet.
She also said people seeking medical advice for a kidney disorder should see a urologist; for a skeletal disorder, they must consult a neurologist; and for a blood disorder, they should see a hematologist.
Stoligal, Detroit Record, April 28, 1922
Stoligal claimed to cure stomach disorders, ulcers, gallstones and chronic appendicitis.
From the April 28, 1922 announcement, Record: “Stoligal will put some pep in your step. He will make you eat well, sleep well, ambitious and regular… Remember, if after reading this message you Don’t take Stoligal, then you’ll have yourself to blame when you’re told there’s no hope for you.”
Digestive health is a big concern for many practitioners today, Wahl said.
“The gallbladder is actually quite important because it’s where a lot of our digestive enzymes are stored,” she said. “They kinda sit there and wait to be excreted through that common bile duct when we eat a meal, and that helps the stomach break down the food.”
Wahl noted that there is no single pill that can address all of the different parts of the digestive system.
In terms of controlling indigestion, acid reflux or ulcers, she said a doctor would likely prescribe a proton pump inhibitor or an H2 blocker to control enzymes.
Hanford Myrrh Balm
As advertised in the Detroit Record of September 20, 1912, Hanford can be used on cuts, bruises, burns, sprains, strains, lame backs, old wounds, and open wounds.
Wahl said doctors still use topical numbing agents today. Many of them, like IcyHot, can be purchased over the counter at any pharmacy.
“They’ll take your symptoms away for a little while, except for bruising, I’m not okay with bruising,” Wahl said, adding that an ice pack with some compression helps with bruising, not a topical cream.
For cuts and burns, Wahl said, the same topical cream could be used, as the goal is to prevent infection. Open wounds should be washed immediately and antibiotic ointment should be applied immediately to the wound.
“Keep it covered and away from dirt or chafing,” she said. “Depending on the size of the wound, you have to leave it open.”
She also warned against continuing to use peroxide after the initial wound cleaning, as the chemical can eat away at healthy tissue surrounding the wound.