Returning from a short visit to the east coast, I had a lot of time on planes and in the airport to read. In some newspaper, a full page ad touted Hyaluronic acid, made from rooster combs, injected into the knee for osteoarthritis. According to the National Institutes of Health which I trust for health information, this treatment can be effective. Can birds improve our health?
Over the years, birds and their parts have been touted as remedies for various ailments. Some examples: In South America, concoctions made from condor feathers are used in traditional medicines. In the middle ages powdered heron bill was used as a sleeping powder, and the heron’s fat to reduce pains. The blood of the partridge was thought to help bloodshot eyes. In India, peacock feathers have been used in traditional medicine for snakebite, infertility and coughs. The brain of the eagle, drank in wine, helps cure jaundice. For those of us who face the trials and tribulations of an aging body, the oil or grease of geese was thought to cure baldness, help deafness, reduce pain and noise in the ears, and is good for lameness, palsies, numbness, and cramps. The green dung of the goose, gathered in the spring, works well for gout. And for dental issues, use the bill of an osprey, picking the gums with it until they bleed.
Well, although I am experiencing the effects of aging, I can’t vouch for any of the above. I’m pretty much a believer in our modern medical system; it isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s pretty darn good. When my father was born in 1912, life expectancy in the U.S. was 49 years. When I was born in 1941, it was 62 years. A child born today can expect to live 78 years. These increases in life expectancy are the result of better medicine (vaccines, antibiotics, techniques, machines, etc.), better sanitation, and better knowledge of food, diseases, and health hazards. Ten years ago I had a tumor removed from a heart valve. Fifty years ago this would have been impossible.
It is understandable that early Europeans thought that the ashes of a cuckoo would cure epilepsy and the dung of a canary would prevent rabies. In 19th century Mexico, the flesh of a roadrunner was eaten to cure a variety of ills. Today we know this is nonsense, but a plethora of nonsense remedies still exist and believed by a large portion of the public. Going through a still unsolved medical problem right now, I have been advised by well-meaning people to try some of these so-called “alternative” therapies like homeopathy, colonic irrigation, and cupping. As a scientist, I am strongly suspicious of anything that doesn’t have decent evidence behind it. I did try one “professional”out of pure desperation for relief for a bout of crippling sciatica. I won’t say what this professional did because I don’t want any lawsuits or arguments from people who swear by this treatment. But his “treatments” only convinced me he and his profession smack strongly of quackery.
I’m sticking to modern medicine, but if it fails I can always cook a Turkey Vulture on a spit, collect its fat drippings, and rub it in my sore muscles; it’s supposed to be great for sciatica.