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In September 1934, Louis Nasch, a department store painter living in St. Paul, Minnesota, alerted the press to the fact that his wife, Martha, hadn't had anything to eat or drink in the last seven years. She hadn't slept either. And yet she was perfectly healthy.

Louis explained that he decided to go public with this information because "I do not want people to think I am starving my wife."

Louis and Martha Nasch

Upon being questioned by the press, Martha insisted it was true, though she conceded that she realized "the world will not believe me."

To back up her claim, her husband, their 12-year-old son Robert, and a girl who lived next door had all signed a statement swearing they hadn't seen her eat or drink anything for the last 7 years. Furthermore, Martha said she was willing to undergo scientific tests to prove she didn't need to eat.

But it doesn't seem like doctors ever took her up on the challenge. In fact, when reporters asked doctors in St. Paul if it could be true that she had lived without any nourishment, they "derided" the idea.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what become of Mrs. Nasch. After the brief flurry of attention in 1934, there was never again a news story about her, as far as I can tell.

According to census records, Martha, Louis, and Robert were all still living in St. Paul in 1940. But after that, nothing. Except that according to Minnesota death records, Louis died in 1964. But I can't find any death records for Martha. Maybe she's still alive somewhere. After all, if she didn't need to eat or drink, it's possible she didn't need to die either.

La Crosse Tribune and Leader-Press - Sep 20, 1934

St. Paul Woman Claims She Hasn't Eaten, Drunk Anything For 7 Years

ST. PAUL, Minn.— A 44-year-old, bob-haired St. Paul housewife, who "knows the world will not believe me," averred today she has taken neither food nor drink for seven years.

Strong enough to cook and do the housework for her husband and son, Mrs. Martha Nasch sat mending socks in the front room of her little home at 642 Half avenue as she stolidly maintained, under questioning of a reporter, that she has not eaten or drunk since 1927.

Across the room sat her husband, Louis J. Nasch, 55-year-old department store painter, who says he has not seen his wife eat or drink since July 29. The husband notified newspaper men of his wife's condition because "I do not want people to think I am starving my wife."

Twelve-year-old Robert Nasch, a student in Theodore Roosevelt junior high school, has, his parents said, smiling, "been telling every one that my mom doesn't eat or drink anything."

Although unable to explain completely what she describes as "my supernatural condition," Mrs. Nasch is willing to undergo a test under constant surveillance to prove her fasting claims.

"Place me under constant watch for any length of time," she said, "and I can prove that I do not need food or water. Let the test run six months if necessary."

Mrs. Nasch contends that when she first observed a change in her life she consulted a St. Paul physician. The result was confinement in the State Insane hospital at St. Peter.

"Somehow the world was not the same," she said. "My body felt and still feels as though it were petrified. I could not eat or drink. I did not want it, although I continued to get meals for my family.

"The doctor told me I had a case of nerves," she continued, "and because I refused to eat I was sent to St. Peter. They thought I was insane, yet they told me I was normal in every other way. I read books, wrote and drew pictures. I hid or threw away the food brought me."

While in the hospital Mrs. Nasch sought through scientific books available to find some explanation of her condition.

"I found a plausible explanation in the Bible," she maintained, "although I never had paid much attention to the Bible up to that time. In the Old Testament I found this: 'They shall see food, but not eat. It shall be of wormwood. They shall see water, but not drink. It shall be as gall.' That describes perfectly my condition, but I cannot understand why this curse should be visited on me."
Categories: Food, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 07, 2014
Comments (4)
Since today is the first day of Error Day, this story seems appropriate. Assuming that the story was accurately reported, it demonstrates that the difference between sanity and insanity is often just a matter of context.

The clipping comes from The Sydney Morning Herald - Dec 26, 1884. But I first saw the story over at Brian Chapman's Legends & Rumors blog.
A correspondent of the Pall Mall Gazette writes: — "An Oxfordshire woman met with an experience a few days back which should act as a warning to intending visitors to lunatic asylums. The person in question journeyed to Littlemore, a village four miles distant from Oxford, where there is an asylum, with the intention of visiting a female patient. The porter having admitted her, is said to have duly passed her on to one of the matrons with the words 'To visit a female patient;' but the nurse appears to have caught only the last words of the sentence; and a mistake resulted which cost the visitor a good deal of unpleasantness, to say the least of it. The stranger was taken to the top of the building, under the belief that she was going to see her friend, and then she was suddenly shut into an empty room. Shortly afterwards, a nurse entered, and, to the consternation of the visitor, at once proceeded to undress her. Protestations and remonstrances were alike unavailing, and firmly, though not unkindly, the poor woman was stripped and put in a bath, after which she was forcibly put to bed. By this time the mistaken lunatic was of course in a frantic state of alarm, which only favoured the belief that she was really a mad woman. Where this gruesome farce might have ended it is not pleasant to contemplate; but by a lucky accident the mistake was discovered later in the day, and the unfortunate woman was set at liberty with profuse apologies. It is satisfactory to hear, under the circumstances, that no complaint has been made as to undue severity on the part of the nurses, though their victim is very naturally aggrieved at a mistake which could only have resulted from grave carelessness on the part of the officials. The story is of value as pointing out how easily a very serious mistake may occur in a large lunatic asylum.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 28, 2014
Comments (0)
BBC News has delved into the mystery of "penis captivus," aka "cohesione in coitu," aka couples getting stuck together during sex. It tries to determine whether this can really happen, or whether such reports are just an urban myth.

According to legend, the gods Mars and Venus once got stuck together, as depicted in this 16th century woodcut by the artist Raphael Regius

Dr Aristomenis Exadaktylos of Switzerland, in a recent radio interview, declared it to be an urban myth. But other doctors aren't so sure. Dr John Dean, a "senior UK-based sexual physician," says that it's a rare phenomenon, but insists it can happen. Although he hastens to add that it's a problem that usually resolves itself within a few seconds as muscles relax.

However, most reports of the phenomenon are highly anecdotal and seem to be more myth than reality. For instance, the BBC offers a description of a 1372 case in which the problem supposedly lasted an entire day... a claim that stretches credibility:
In 1372, Geoffrey de La Tour-Landry related how a voluptuary named Pers Lenard "delt fleshely with a woman" on top of an altar of a church, and God "tyed hem faste togedre dat night". The following day the whole town saw the couple still entwined "fast like a dogge and biche togedre". Finally prayers were spoken and the couple's prolonged intercourse came to an end (although they were obliged to return to the church on three Sundays, strip naked and beat themselves in front of the congregation).

Accounts of the phenomenon also often mix in a moral message by suggesting that the problem only afflicts adulterers, because the fear of detection strengthens the force of the woman's muscular spasm. So "Recent media reports of penis captivus - in Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe and the Philippines - all concern adulterous couples." The notion that the problem is somehow a punishment for adultery is, of course, nonsense.

Finally, what would be the medical treatment for this problem? The 17th Century Dutch physician Isbrand van Diemerbroeck offered cold water as a cure:
"When I was a student at Leyden there was a young Bridegroom in that Town that being overwanton with his Bride had so hamper'd himself in her Privities, that he could not draw his Yard forth, till Delmehorst the Physician unty'd the knot by casting cold Water on the Part."

If cold water doesn't work, chloroform historically seems to be the next most popular solution. But I assume any muscle relaxant would remedy the situation.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 03, 2014
Comments (0)

The Ocean County Health Department of New Jersey recently began receiving numerous phone calls and emails from people worried about the health risk posed by squirrels with AIDS. Many parents asked whether they should allow their children to play outside.

In response, the health department has posted a statement assuring the public that there is no such thing as 'Squirrel AIDS' or 'SQUAIDS'. Nor have there been any confirmed cases of illness transmitted to a human from a squirrel.

No cases of squirrel-to-human disease transmission? I immediately thought, 'What about rabies?' But some googling reveals that although squirrels can theoretically contract rabies, it's very rare for them to do so. This is mostly because squirrels are quick enough to avoid rabid animals. And if they failed to do so, they probably wouldn't survive the encounter long enough to become a carrier. Therefore, according to, a squirrel bite is "one of the few bites that does not trigger a rabies vaccine protocol" in emergency rooms.

The squirrel AIDS story originated from a site called The Lacey Reporter, which is trying hard to look like a legitimate local news site, but apparently is yet another of these now ubiquitous fake news sites.

Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 17, 2014
Comments (0)
A story posted recently on the fake-news site alleged that hospitals in Colorado were being overwhelmed by people suffering from marijuana poisoning. There were 37 people dead already!

The article quoted a Dr. Jack Shepard of St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver as saying, "It's complete chaos here. I've put five college students in body bags since breakfast and more are arriving every minute."

Enough people believed this story that St. Luke's Medical Center (which is a real hospital) felt compelled to issue a statement denying the report:

The name Dr. Jack Shepard is an allusion to the fictional doctor on the TV show Lost.

Also, marijuana has extremely low toxicity. There's no known case of a fatal marijuana overdose.

Update: Among those who apparently were taken in by the Daily Currant's article was Sweden's Justice Minister Beatrice Ask. She shared the article on her Facebook page, along with the comment, "Stupid and sad. My first submitted proposal in the youth wing was called 'Crush drugs!'. In this matter, I have not changed my judgment at all." 

She was subsequently heavily criticized for sharing the article (and apparently believing it). However, her press secretary told the Aftonbladet newspaper that she had been aware the article was satire. []
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Sat Jan 04, 2014
Comments (2)
Great name. Lousy product. Acme Worm Bouncer was widely advertised in the 1920s and 30s, with guarantees that it would quickly free farm animals of "blood-sucking, profit-stealing parasites." But the stuff was actually mostly charcoal. Governmental authorities eventually filed suit against Acme Feeds, Inc., the company that made the stuff, charging them with "misleading representations regarding its efficacy." [via The Quack Doctor]

Misbranding of Acme Worm Bouncer. U.S. v. 5 Bags of Acme Worm Bouncer. Default decree of condemnation and destruction.
The labeling of this product bore false and misleading representations regarding its efficacy in the conditions indicated below.

On February 2, 1940, the United States attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin filed a libel against five bags of Acme Worm Bouncer at Monroe, Wis., alleging that the article had been shipped in interstate commerce on or about November 28, 1939, and January 9, 1940, by Acme Feeds, Inc. from Forest Park, Ill.; and charging that it was misbranded.

Analysis showed that the article consisted essentially of charcoal, sulfur, iron oxide, iron sulfate, salt, sodium sulfate, and a small proportion of Epsom salt.

The article was alleged to be misbranded in that the labeling bore representations that it was a "worm bouncer," that no drenching, dosing, handling, or starving were required, that it should be kept before pigs at all times to prevent reinfestation; that it was the only worm expeller on the market successfully fed in self-feeders; that chicks should be wormed when they are 8 weeks old, that 1 pound of the article should be used with every 100 pounds of Acme Growing Mash; that the birds should be kept confined in a separate house during treatment so that they could not pollute the yard with worm eggs and thus infest the other flocks; that if the birds are wormed too late the worms have a chance to develop and mature their eggs which would pass out and reinfest the birds before they recover from the first worming; that it should be used as a general worm treatment for laying flocks and if the flock is extremely wormy; that it would be efficacious for sheep and lambs that are in bad or unthrifty condition; that they should have free access to the article and that it would help to prevent scours and bloat; that a handful three times a day should be given to horses and colts until the worms were expelled and thereafter a handful should be given each day to keep the horses in good condition; and that it would be efficacious to remove the cause and would expel and prevent free intestinal worms and 90 percent of disease, which representations were false and misleading.

On March 12, 1940, no claimant having appeared, judgment of condemnation was entered and it was ordered that the product be destroyed.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 20, 2013
Comments (0)
A case of satirical prophecy? On April 1, 1931, the Los Angeles Times ran an article on its front page declaring that health can "be caught." It explained that a German scientist, Dr. Eugene Lirpa, had discovered that good health was caused by a bacteria, "Bacillus sanitatis." People who lacked this bacteria grew ill. Therefore, it would be possible to make people healthy by infecting them with the "germ of health."

The article was an April Fool's Day hoax. In fact, I think it's the ONLY April Fool hoax the LA Times has ever perpetrated, because the major US newspapers (unlike their British counterparts) tend to view themselves as being somewhat above the vulgar tradition of April Foolery.

But fast forward to the present day. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine recently published an article in Science suggesting that people who are of a healthy weight might be infected by a bacteria called Bacteroides. Obese people lack this bacteria. Therefore, infecting overweight people with this bug might help them lose the pounds.

Sounds to me a lot like the LA Times 1931 article. April Fool's Day once again anticipates reality.

Bacteria from slim people could help treat obesity, study finds

Bugs that lurk in the guts of slim people could be turned into radical new therapies to treat obesity, according to a new study.

The claim follows a series of experiments which found that the different populations of bacteria that live in lean and overweight people caused mice to lose or gain weight.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 05, 2013
Comments (0)
Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper reports that Mzee Julius Wanyondu is having trouble getting coverage under the National Hospital Insurance Fund. The reason is that he's 128 years old, having been born in 1884. However, the NHIF's computers will only accept birthdates later than 1890.

Remarkably, the article doesn't address the obvious question: Does this guy have any proof that he's really 128? He has some kind of ID card that displays 1884 as his birthdate. But what evidence did he present to get this card?

The article says that Mzee Wanyondu has a son who's 70. Based on that, I'd say it's likely that he's in his 90s. Or maybe slightly over 100. 128? No way.

Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 27, 2012
Comments (6)
Virginia news station WSLS 10 recently ran a 'myth buster' segment on whether putting a bar of soap between your sheets can ease nighttime leg and foot cramps. To my surprise, they concluded that, yes, a bar of soap does seem to help some people, even though there is "no scientific evidence" for why this would work.

Just to clarify, the claim is that merely having a bar of soap near your muscles at night can stop them from cramping. The brand of soap doesn't seem to matter much, though some people express individual preferences. (Irish Spring is a favorite.) The soap should also be in close proximity to the cramping muscle. Some people say that if cramping starts, they simply adjust their position so that the soap is making contact with the muscle, and the cramping and pain stops.

To say that there's "no scientific evidence" for this claim seems like an understatement. The idea sounds totally absurd. However, a quick google search reveals a large number of people who, despite initial skepticism, now swear by the method. Even Snopes lists the claim as 'undetermined'. So what could be going on here? Could soap actually have muscle-calming properties?

The most obvious theory is that the cramp relief is simply a placebo effect. People believe that it'll work, so it does. But it seems premature to dismiss the phenomenon in this way. Perhaps there is some strange bio-chemical effect at work.

Unfortunately, there's been very little scientific investigation of the soap phenomenon. The one relevant study I could find was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Dr. Yon Doo Ough (of Beloit Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin) and colleagues investigated whether soap-scented skin patches could ease menstrual cramps. Their study was directly inspired by soap's use in preventing nocturnal leg cramps. They theorized that it was the smell of the soap, not the soap itself, that was having the antispasmodic effect. So they applied soap-scented oil to skin patches and tested them on women with a history of severe menstrual cramps. The women reported that the patches did help.

The researchers might be on to something with their scent theory. A few years ago, over at Weird Universe, I posted about a study published in the journal Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery that looked at whether stinky shoe smell could be an effective treatment for epilepsy. For centuries, it's been part of folk medical practice in India to arrest epileptic seizures by forcing the person having the seizure to smell stinky shoes. The researchers concluded, to their surprise, that the technique worked. They wrote, "strong olfaction applied in the form of 'shoe-smell' did definitely play a suppressive role and thus exerted an inhibitory influence on epilepsy."

If a strong smell can suppress an epileptic seizure, perhaps it can also suppress the perception of pain and cramps. The brain works in mysterious ways. It would be interesting to test whether sleeping with a stinky shoe also eases cramps. In fact, will any strong smell have the same effect?

So until a better theory comes along, I'm willing to accept the possibility that soap between the sheets might ease cramps — perhaps because the smell somehow tricks the brain into ignoring the pain and suppressing the cramping response. Though the mystery is why applying the soap directly to the muscle seems to help. Would it be equally efficacious to put the soap directly to your nose?

As the WSLS myth-buster segment pointed out, the technique is cheap and harmless. So if you suffer from nocturnal leg cramps, I guess it's worth a try. There's nothing to lose. Though, inevitably, there are people trying to make a buck off this home remedy. Last year, one guy filed a patent for a pain-relief "soap cushion" (depicted below) that has compartments into which pieces of hard soap can be inserted. Is that really patentable?

Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 21, 2012
Comments (9)
When a doctor starts injecting bathroom caulk into your buttocks, I think that's a good sign he/she isn't entirely on the up-and-up.

Fake Fix-a-Flat nurse arrested, charged with manslaughter in Fla. client’s death

BROWARD — Oneal Morris, the transgender woman charged in two counties with injecting people seeking fuller figures with a toxic concoction which included Fix-a-Flat, on Thursday was charged with manslaughter in the death of a Broward County client. Morris, 32, of Hollywood, has been charged in the death of Shatarka Nuby, 31, of Tamarac...
According to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Nuby had paid Morris, known as The Duchess, hundreds of dollars to inject her at her home with the concoction which promised to enhance her buttock, hips, thighs and breasts. Morris would sometimes be dressed in scrubs, giving the impression she was a medical worker — a doctor or a nurse, but detectives say she was a fake...
Following Nuby’s death, Morris was charged in Broward with three counts of practicing medicine without a license. Prosecutors say she injected many patients with a dangerous mixture of products including mineral oil, rubber cement, Fix-a-Flat and caulk. Many of the items were purchased at The Home Depot.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 27, 2012
Comments (1)
Serge Benhayon is the creator of "Esoteric Breast Massage" (EBM). He describes this as a healing technique that offers many benefits, such as possibly preventing cancer.

Serge Benhayon

Despite what you may be thinking, EBM is not just an excuse for him to massage lots of women's breasts. Far from it. In fact, he never does the massaging. He emphasizes that only women can perform EBM on other women. This made it a little awkward for him to teach the technique, back when he was the only person who knew how to do it. From an interview in Spa Australasia magazine (pdf):

I have never performed an EBM on a client nor to any of our practitioners. It is not for men to do. And hence, initially, and deliberately by design, a small group of women were selected to learn the EBM. In keeping with my teachings on Energetic Integrity, the technique was demonstrated on my partner under simulation and no naked bodies were used. Once the techniques were learnt, the group of women set-out to practice on each other, over and over, until they could feel and learn its entire structure and how the energetic science feels in action and in delivery.

EBM Brochure

Being the inventor of Esoteric Breast Massage isn't the only thing that makes Benhayon an interesting character. Turns out he's also the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci. And his daughter is following in his footsteps. She's the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, and a practitioner of "esoteric connective tissue therapy" as well as "craniosacral massage." Plus, she can talk to women's ovaries.

Benhayon and daughter operate from their Universal Medicine center, outside Lismore in New South Wales, Australia. But they're attracting controversy. Their treatments, though lacking much scientific backing, are partially funded by Medicare. And a group of men are complaining that Benhayon has ruined their marriages. Links:,
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 23, 2012
Comments (4)
Samuel "Old Uncle Sam" Shepherd had a hard but interesting life. He was a slave who managed to buy his freedom, and lived on until 1909. But it's his birthdate that generates more interest than the date of his death.

His grave marker in Oak Hill Cemetery (Lawrence, Kansas) lists his birthdate as 1784. This would make him 125 years old when he died. If true, he would potentially be the oldest person ever to have lived.

According to wikipedia, Jeanne Calment of France holds the record for the oldest unambiguously documented human lifespan. She died at the age of 122 in 1997. Christian Mortensen, who died at the age of 115, holds the record for the oldest male lifespan (again, unambiguously documented). Samuel Shepherd, at 125, would have beaten both of them.

However, the documentation for Shepherd's birthdate is incredibly ambiguous. There's just his word for it, and he seems to have guessed at the date. This disqualifies him for consideration as the Oldest Person Ever.

In fact, Shepherd seems to offer an example of the phenomenon of age exaggeration, which I've discussed on the site before. It's the tendency for people to lie about their age (or, more charitably, to grow confused about it), exaggerating it upwards as they near the centenary mark. They do this because being perceived to be very old makes them feel special and gives them higher status in the community.

The most famous example of this phenomenon is the Ecuadorian town of Vilcabamba, which briefly gained a worldwide reputation as the Town of Supercentenarians, until anthropologists realized that large numbers of people in the town were misrepresenting their age.

I've also posted about the case of Buster Martin (who claimed to be a 101-year-old marathon runner), Mariam Amash (who claimed to be 120), and the Chinese village of Bama (which, like Vilcabamba, is supposed to be full of supercentenarians).
Categories: Death, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 09, 2012
Comments (3)
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