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"Remember: People still sell snake oil. They just put pictures of leaves on the bottle now."

Next time you see an ad for food or medicine, count the number of times it uses the words 'nature' or 'natural'. Now look back on it and observe the inverse correlation between use of the word 'natural' and what the ad actually tries to tell you about the product.

Ads which emphasise how natural their products are, are attempting to sell something by exploiting the logical fallacy known as the Appeal to Nature. This means asserting that if something is natural, it must be good, and anything artificial is necessarily bad.

In the foods and medical industries, this is one of the more common forms of turd polish.

It is worth noting that for something to be described as natural, it must simply have been produced without direct human intervention. Technically, a solution of arsenic and mercury in deadly nightshade sap could be sold as a natural substance because arsenic, mercury and deadly nightshade all occur in nature. In fact, the vendors could claim it reduces frequency of death due to cancer -- and this would be true, because you can't die of cancer if you've already died of poison.

It should also be borne in mind that in food, the difference between natural and artificial colours and flavourings refers to how the molecules were made, and not what those molecules actually are. In truth, natural and artificial flavours are exactly the same molecules - the only difference is that one is extracted from plants using a variety of chemicals, while the other is made by reacting chemicals together in a test tube. Food chemists will tell you that "all natural colors and flavorings" just means "we made them the hard way". Just remember that rattlesnake venom is all-natural too.

In business, the practice of pushing all-natural products for PR purposes is known as "greenwashing." If a major company has been accused of gross disregard for the environment, then they may find it cheaper to whitewash their image by donating to the Sierra Club, introducing a new, "all-natural" product line that is supposed to be more eco-friendly, and running a series of ads telling consumers that, yes, We Care, than it would be to actually fix their problems. Because Consumers Are Morons, people will buy into the company's new "green" campaign, even though they are still getting away with environmental destruction.

Not entirely synonymous with the product peddled by the Snake Oil Salesman, but there are plenty of cases where they are one and the same. See also Spice Rack Panacea. The Granola Girl often swears by this stuff.

Keep in mind that although words like "natural", "organic", and "wholesome" may be misleading as to quality, they may not be misleading as to any difference in the product. For instance, the yogurt industry uses "natural" to describe yogurts that don't contain gums, starches, added acids, or stabilizers even though those ingredients are technically natural. Also, the "natural market" of a supermarket is often the only place people with lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, or severe food allergies can find processed food they can eat without getting sick, especially in smaller communities that don't have a Whole Foods.

In the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries, the use of the word "natural" tends not to come with strict legal requirements restricting its use. On the other hand, the use of the word "organic" is often legally restricted to products that are made without chemical fertilizer, antibiotics, irradiation, or genetically modified organisms and meet other requirements. As a result, the word "natural" tends to get used in advertising more often since it doesn't actually require much and can be used in basically any way.

It may be interesting to note that, as a commercial trope, this is mostly a fairly recent invention, growing through the 1960s and 1970s. (Though if you look through really old newspaper ads from the early 1800s, you can find examples of this.) For most of the rest of human history, "nature" was widely considered to be filthy, disgusting, and chock full of things that want to kill and/or eat you. Had marketing forces stayed on-track, modern products would be touting their complete absence of anything found in nature, and extolling the health benefits (and exciting taste sensations) found from making food and health products with Pure Science.

This trope is not in play if natural is being used in the sense found in ideas like "natural law", where it means closer to "proper" and "fitting" rather than simply "not artificial". "Crime against nature", for instance, is (usually) using "nature" in that sense, not merely "crap humans didn't make" or "crap that happens on its own", otherwise every human action involving a tool would be one. The fact that the term has those two, related but different, senses, is probably where this trope originates; using terms ambiguously is a classic ploy in advertising and propaganda. (If you are interested, CS Lewis's Studies in Words has a chapter on "Nature" that goes into the relationship in depth.)

Examples of All-Natural Snake Oil include:


  • Given the name, if you thought the Natural Confectionery Company was a notably bad offender, you would be right. One Egregious example had a man reassure his daughter that the (jelly) snakes they were going to eat had no artificial colours or preservatives, and so were totally non-venomous. Because, as everybody knows, snake venom is completely artificial.
  • Yogurt companies such as Actimel and Yakult are fond of boasting about how the 'good bacteria' in their products help reinforce your body's natural defences. The touted health benefits have not yet been proven, so the advertisers have to be careful not to include too specific claims in their TV spots (many have been banned already as a result of this). There is no discernible difference between drinking "probiotic yogurt drinks" and eating regular yogurt; in addition, the concentration of sugar is unusually high at around 18-20%. As a result, nutritional authorities (notably the one within the European Union) are attempting to prevent the manufacturers boasting the health benefits, which are seemingly outweighed by the unhealthy ingredients.
    • Not in North America, where almost all big-brand commercial yogurts are made by adding thickeners and acids to milk to get the right sourness and texture, then adding a smattering of bacteria to satisfy the feds. Because the mixture is shipped off to supermarkets almost immediately without being heated or held first, the bacteria never get the chance to convert the lactose into lactic acid. One can imagine the problems this causes people with lactose intolerance, who are told by doctors (who are not food chemists) that they are allowed yogurt - until they try the big corporate or supermarket brand and spend the afternoon on the toilet. "Natural" yogurts, the ones that cost more, are virtually the only brands that aren't made this way. It's true that "probiotic" yogurts are a scam, since the only requirement for a real yogurt is that it be made from milk inoculated with certain specific thermophilic strains of bacteria. But any yogurt that contains acids, gums, or starches (ie. every single cheap, brand-name yogurt) is basically nothing but sour, diluted milk.
    • And it turns out that probiotic yogurts with high bacteria counts can kill you if you're a gastrointestinal patient. Dutch university doctors found this out the hard way.
  • Bottled water companies have recently been getting flak for claiming that their water is sourced from a unique spring in the Andes/Maine/France/wherever, when in fact, it is just tap water. This one was mercilessly debunked on Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.
    • Not only that, but empty water bottles are a major source of litter and landfill waste. There's a reason why most environmentalists not only swear by tap water (or filtration if the tap is unsafe to drink), but push for stores and cafeterias to not sell bottled water.
    • Spring water isn't even good for you. According to the Discovery Health show Dr. Know, there are chemicals naturally found in water that can be harmful when regularly ingested. Those chemicals are filtered out of tap water, but not out of bottled spring water. The only real problem with tap water was that the chlorine tastes terrible if you're not used to it, otherwise it's better for you.
      • Large parts of the world have better methods of cleaning tap water than chlorinating it. In the Netherlands and New York City, for example, tap water rated better in double blind taste tests.
    • The main exception to this rule is if your local tap water is heavily polluted. This problem isn't restricted to developing areas of the world -- many American cities have problems with water quality (although buying filtered taps can alleviate most of this), and FEMA and similar groups recommend keeping big jugs of water in case a disaster contaminates the water supply or otherwise makes it unusable.
      • In UK most tap water is marked as drinkable (read - if it kills you/harms you it is not your stupidity) but at least in central London it is not what I'd like to drink every day. Similary in Warsaw - with the difference that there taps are not marked as drinkable but at least after boiling it does not kill you (taste is IMHO similar). Even if tap water is not polluted it still may have different taste or be not suitable for tea (or cats). One British tea company markets a special blend designed to give better results in the hard (calcium- and magnesium-rich) tap waters common in many parts of the UK.
    • Dasani was a victim of this in the UK - between the embarrassment of the marketing campaign (in which they Did Not Do the Research about British English[1]) and the revelation that it came out of a tap in Sidcup, Kent, it was essentially laughed off the shelves.
      • Actually, the situation is worse than that. Dasani was advertising as using ozone to purify the water; which they did. They took tap water, filtered it, added calcium chloride and bromide for taste, and pumped it full of ozone. All substances that occur commonly in nature. The problem was that the ozone reacted with the harmless bromide, converting it into highly carcinogenic bromate. The water was pulled because it contained double the legal maximum concentration of bromate.
    • Just for fun, bottling the water at all automatically makes it worse for you; chemicals from the plastic leach out into the water. Also, the plastic is porous, which makes it a fantastic place for bacteria to breed.
    • In the entire western world, tap water actually has stricter purity standards than bottled/"mineral" water. This lead to at least one case in Germany in which a spring originally designated for tap water had to be converted into a bottled water factory. The bottled water is still available, in case you wonder...
  • Speaking of water, check your shampoo bottle. Odds are, one of the ingredients listed will be "aqua", which is just another name for water.
  • HeadOn. Chemical analysis of the Migraine formulation has shown that the product consists almost entirely of wax.
    • Of course it's nothing but wax. It's homeopathic, which by definition means that it contains absolutely no active ingredient.
    • Plus the advertising doesn't actually say that it treats headaches. It just says to apply directly to the forehead.
  • Ads for NRG claim that the drink contains "natural caffeine," which as everybody knows is completely different from the artificial caffeine in so many other energy drinks...except that it isn't, since virtually all caffeine used in energy drinks and soda-pop comes from decaffeinated coffee beans (and most of the rest comes from decaffeinated tea leaves).
  • An ad for Smarties tried to portray the sugar-coated lumps of chocolate as healthy because they don't have any artificial colours.
    • This is referring to British Smarties, which are like larger M&Ms and normally come in tubes. Not to be confused with the American candy, which are small flavored tablets of concentrated sugar about the size of the nail on your pinky toe.
  • And who can forget Enzyte Bob, with his herbal supplements for "natural male enhancement"?
  • The Irish government has recently commissioned an ad campaign about investment in renewable fuel, which tries to portray solar and wind power as better than coal and oil because it's natural. In fact, such renewable power is exactly as natural as non-renewable power; sunlight, wind, oil, and coal all occur in nature, and all require artificial power plants to generate electricity. Somewhat hypocritically, the government refuses to consider nuclear power, despite the fact that it's even more natural -- nuclear reactors have been known to occur naturally. Of course, the fact that words like 'Chernobyl' inevitably tend to pop up in discussions about nuclear power probably contributes to this refusal.
    • Amazingly, a well-built, properly ran nuclear facility is safer and more environmentally friendly than coal power. Chernobyl was partially due to poor construction, but the direct cause was a particularly egregious case of human error; scientists intentionally disengaged all fail-safes and safety protocols in the reactor and put massive strain on it to see if it could safely shut down under those conditions, while the actual accident was caused by a design fault exposed when it did.
      • Actually and very much ironically, the experiment which led to the Chernobyl disaster (due to various reasons, including the fact that the experienced crew trained to perform the experiment was rotated due to a delay, which meant a different, inexperienced crew had to do the experiment, which is just another "dumb" on the huge heap that led to the accident on its own and its consequences worldwide) was meant to improve the safety of the plant. You see, the problem the engineers brought up was that in a case when external power was not available (ie. the power grid fails, which was not all that uncommon and wouldn't be helped in the least by suddenly losing 3200MW from the nuclear power plant itself) the pumps that made the coolant flow would not function and the lack of cooling (even after the core is shut down, it would retain a lot of waste heat before stabilizing) would lead to core damage (not dangerous, but very expensive and putting the plant out of order for quite a long time). The experiment was meant to allow the braking turbines to power the pumps before the backup diesel generators could kick in (about a minute or so, which is quite a problem when the core still produces 200MW or so). The reasoning behind the experiment was sound, the accident itself was very unfortunate. Yeah, it couldn't happen in a properly built nuclear power plant (by today's standards), but that argument is so easy to make in hindsight. Even then, it required a lot of failures in order to bring the plant down (like say, a Tsunami wiping out the backup plan, the backup-backup plan, and destroying all the infrastructure for emergency responders use to respond). It's just that lots of them aren't even possible in a modern plant. However, most of them were only a result of trying too hard.
  • A recent ad campaign in the US has started trying to portray high fructose corn syrup as "All Natural" because it comes from corn, despite going through nearly as much processing as most bioplastics. Even corn starch requires quite a bit of work to isolate, and then it has to be broken down into glucose by two enzymes and partially converted to fructose by another.
    • On the other hand, many of its opponents try to present refined sugar as better for you because it's "more natural," which is true insofar as the chemical being sold hasn't been changed on a molecular level from its natural state, but it's still a lot of work to isolate it. Studies have mixed results, but at the end of the day, that little number on the "sugars" line of the nutrition label makes much more of a difference than which product they come from; most of the problems associated with HFCS stem from its price allowing it to be used in more products and in larger amounts.
      • Not just that, the fact that it is liquid makes it easier to add to many products. Although simple syrups can be made from sugar to do the same thing it is more of a hassle and is even more expensive than adding just sugar, and corn syrup is easier to use in most cases.
      • Still, anyone who thinks that "all sugars are pretty much the same" should talk to someone who is lactose intolerant.
  • Inverted example: In Australia, some of the engine oil ads sing the virtues of synthetic oils over the "natural" oils, since "natural" oils has things in it that cause wear in engine parts. Of course, both varieties of engine oil are synthetic in some sense -- engine oil has to be refined from crude oil, while synthetic oil is made from other sources of lubricants. Interestingly, synthetic engine oil has been made from banana oil in the past (such as in South Africa during the Apartheid years), allowing for a fake "natural" claim here too.
    • It's not just Australia; several of the brands selling "synthetic" engine oils here in the States make similar claims.
      • There's actually a very, very good reason for this: There are two methods of producing oil. One is through a process called the Fischer-Tropsch Process, which is expensive, but allows you to produce any hydrocarbon you want. This process uses a gas called "synthetic gas" (It's carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas produced from natural gas) and is very efficient; this, or a similar process, is most likely the source of the "synthetic" oil. The second method is the refining of crude oil, which always has some impurity in it. (Sulphur is a big one.)
      • Or at least that's how it used to be. Manufacturers found they could get regular oil to meet most of the qualities of synthetic oil. In the U.S, oils made with Base II oil is traditional motor oil and Base III oils can be sold as synthetic, although true synthetic is Base IV. Whether Base II-equivalents are "synthetic" or not varies from country to country.
  • Splenda's "Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar", which makes as much sense as saying "Salt, made from chlorine and sodium so it's deadly."
    • The tagline may be a sideways dig at Aspartame, which is a modified (asp-phe) dipeptide, while Splenda is a chlorinated sucrose, and is therefore a degree of separation closer from "natural" sugar.
    • Well, salt IS poisonous. It just takes a fair dose.
  • The chemical used to approximate the taste of almonds comes in both natural and artificial. The natural-extract version is more expensive than the artificial one. The trick? The natural extract comes from peach pits and contains trace amounts of cyanide that the artificially-created version does not.
    • That said, cyanide is actually an important part of the flavour of a lot of foods. The dose makes the poison.
      • Although, cyanide is worthy of note as a toxin because it's deadly in very low concentrations and kills quickly, making it a very effective poison.
    • And, of course, the Bitter Almonds staple of crime shows wouldn't exist without that all-natural cyanide in said bitter almonds.
  • The Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company. The healthiest, most ecologically responsible coffin nails you can buy. The vast majority of carcinogens in tobacco occur naturally in the leaf as it's cured, no additives necessary. Most additives used in tobacco products are benign flavorings, like cocoa and vanilla. Just don't tell the folks who smoke American Spirits.
  • A UK supermarket promoted their vanilla extract (or it might have been vanilla ice cream) as being good and natural, containing no 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde. Which, if taken at face value, means that their vanilla product has no vanillin, the naturally occuring molecule responsible for vanilla's taste.
  • One should also be careful, because "natural flavor" does not mean "made with what it sounds like it's made with". As this Cracked article sarcastically but correctly points out, if it says "natural flavor" on your orange candy, it wasn't made with oranges; if it had been, that would be a selling point. It also points out that natural flavor could be anything provided it wasn't made in a lab. Cat urine and goat jizz are two examples they list. They hasten to point out that these probably aren't in your foods (yet), but all the same, maybe it's time to start being horrified.
    • Buttered popcorn is a bit better, where "natural flavor" usually means "we took the ingredients for butter, we just didn't turn them into actual butter".
  • The advertising for many "natural" products makes a big deal about not using "refined sugar"; but are instead "fruit juice sweetened". The problem with this claim is that the "fruit juice" used is actually deionized fruit juice. This is essentially bland-tasting juice -- apple, white grape, or pear -- filtered to strip out all remaining flavour, colour, and nutritional content; leaving only the sugar and water content. That's right, it's nothing but sugar water under a different name. It's the exact same form of sugar as the supposedly "unnatural" refined version, just pre-diluted, and costing several times as much. The only reason that deionized fruit juice exists is to legally allow the product to advertise itself as "all natural".
    • Juice blends also tend to slide into Asbestos-Free Cereal territory here. A common trick is to splash "Blueberry" or "Pomegranate" or a similar expensive juice on the label and add "100% juice." Which it is, but the bulk is a cheaper juice as a base, usually apple. The expensive juice merely provides a little flavor.
  • Many manufacturers of snack chips (we're looking at you, Frito-Lay) like to point out that their products are "all natural." They do have a better claim than much of this list - most chips are just potato slices/batter or cornmeal, fried in plant oil and salted. The problem is that there's more than enough oil to be fattening - Fritos in particular are so soaked in it that they quick-burn.
    • Having seen Fritos used as kindling, it's surprising they've never marketed it as having more practical uses than as a snack.
  • Providing the second quote for this page is Cracked's list of "8 Health Foods That Are Bad For Your Health", which puts herbal supplements squarely at Number One. The article points out that, unlike pharmaceutical medicines, alternative and herbal remedies aren't regulated by the FDA, which means that some of them can be downright dangerous. In addition to herbal supplements, the article notes the dangers of such "health" foods as fast food salads [2], granola/cereal bars [3], bran muffins [4] and vitamin water [5].
    • The non-regulation of "supplements" is a major problem for athletes who use protein powders, as they fall into this regulation category even though they're definitely food, and used in much larger amounts.
  • One of the most famous and egregous modern-day "snake oil salesmen" is infomercial star Kevin Trudeau, who was convicted of credit card fraud and grand larceny in the past and had to pay a fine in 1999 for making dangerously erronenous health claims in the past before restarting and publishing his same old flim-flam under the [x] "They" Don't Want You To Know About series of books. The Natural Cures one was shown to feature "cures" for such things as cancer and diabetes. You know, illnesses that will kill you if you don't get proper medical care for them. Trudeau has no medical expertise or a medical background at all. None.
    • It Got Worse: Trudeau's schtick is to sell you "natural cures" so he'll get your credit card.
  • In Australia there is an ad for Raid (Bug spray) that claims that mums will like it cause it's all natural. As if that makes the poison any better.
    • Made worse by the fact the plant-based extract is the same core ingredient as every other insecticide on the domestic market. Anything more powerful would be farm- or industrial-grade and require hazmat suits and fumigation procedures to use "safely".
  • One of the easiest signs is to count the number of health claims on a food product and correlate it positively to the number of calories. (For instance, Three Musketeers have less fat, but more calories, than Hershey's.) Some of these are particularly socially irresponsible, such as all-natural margarine[6], while other ingredients in all-natural foods, such as soy protein isolate[7], are hardly natural.
    • Most oils use the hexane process to get as much out of the oil seeds as possible, to the point that "expeller pressed" is practically synonymous with natural oil.
  • Played shamelessly straight in a commercial for Herbashine hair care products. "The only one made with bamboo extract. Bamboo, like naturally strong." Yeah, I'm fairly certain that's not how it works.

Parodies

  • Spoofed in a sketch on A Bit of Fry and Laurie in which a brand of cocoa is advertised as containing "nature's own barbiturates and heroin".
    • Another sketch features a doctor prescribing cigarettes, reassuring his patient that tobacco is a herbal ingredient.
    • Or rather, a white-coated man masquerading as a doctor - the punchline is that he's a tobacco salesman. "Doctor? Whatever gave you that idea?"
  • The same idea is used in an episode of House in which the eponymous character--an actual doctor and not wearing a white coat--(jokingly?) makes a similar argument for cigarettes. Of course, the actor playing House is Hugh Laurie of A Bit of Fry and Laurie.
    • Of course, his serious argument was that 3 cigarettes a day was the most cost-effective and fun treatment for the patient (a Mall Santa) who had extreme flatulence. Dr. Cuddy (his boss) begged to differ, but no matter.
  • Parodied in the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures with BubbleShock! The advertisements all say, "Contains Bane. It's organic!" Nobody ever asks what Bane is. It's an alien mind-control parasite; organic, sure, but also very much alive, and pure evil to boot.
    • Didn't the name of the material kind of clue people in on its basic nature?
    • Also Lampshaded when Maria criticizes that just because it says organic, that automatically makes it alright.
  • Parodied in an episode of King of the Hill, when trans fats are banned in Arlen ala 1920s Prohibition. Bill Dauterive believes that if the food he's eating is organic (or at least free of particularly demonized chemicals), he can eat as much as he wants. He proceeds to get even fatter as a result.
  • An episode of the Dilbert animated series had his company killing people with herbal lozenges. "Anthrax is a bacterium, not a herb."
    • Also spoofed in this Dilbert comic strip. Scott Adams' commentary in one of the books: "It frightens me to think how many people believe 'natural' is the same as 'good for you.'"
  • Spoofed a number of times in Discworld:
    • In Witches Abroad, Magrat assumes that absinthe is good for you because it's made with herbs. She ends up with a good-sized hangover afterwards.
    • In Carpe Jugulum, the Nac Mac Feegle convince King Verence to drink a bowl of "brose" by telling him it's got milk and herbs in it. What they don't tell him is that the Feegles, who can drink their weight in lamp oil with no ill effects, drink their "brose" to get their spirits up before going into battle, and Verence ends up briefly turning into a Screaming Warrior.
    • Jingo gently winds up the tendency of shampoos to use "herbs" when the Watch investigates Snowy Slopes, the Man With the Steel-Toothed Comb, who has tried virtually every hair care product available in Ankh-Morpork to treat his horrendous dandruff, mostly on the virtue that they have herbs. Angua (who has some hair problems herself), muses that you stuff a bunch of weeds in a shampoo bottle, and you have herbs.
    • In Going Postal, Tolliver Groat makes all his own medicines using natural ingredients... like, say, arsenic and sulfur. His throat lozenges dissolve walls.
      • Groat also puts sulfur and charcoal in his socks, and soaks his trousers in saltpetre. After he's rescued from a fire, this leads to a doctor informing Moist von Lipwig "His trousers were the subject of a controlled detonation after one of his socks exploded."
      • He also has a chest warmer made of goose grease and bread pudding. Apparently he stuffs that down his shirt instead of down his throat but it keeps him going so whatever works.
    • Numerous of his books refer to a drink called Scumble, which, as is innocently said, is made of apples - well, mostly apples. However, it is one of the most strongly alcoholic liquors known on the Disc. Nanny Ogg's cooking contains numerous variations.
    • And Making Money features Splot, a hot drink that picks people up[8], made from herbs and natural ingredients. "But belladonna is a herb, and arsenic is natural".
    • The Discworld Companion has an entry on Jimkin Bearhugger's Homeopathic Sipping Whisky. Jim failed to understand why the slogan 'Every Drop Diluted 1 Million Times' failed to attract customers even though, in theory, even being in the same room as an uncorked bottle should have gotten you riotously drunk.
  • An episode of Eureka revealed that all the victims had eaten the chicken which came from a chicken farmer (who actually cloned the birds because it was less cruel that way) who fed the poultry a certain nutrient solution. She had no problem using the nutrient because it was natural, and therefore safe to use. At least until a doctor pointed out it was known to degrade people's brains. Note that this was an organic chicken farmer who cloned only parts of the chickens for human consumption. Yes, organically cloned chicken parts.
  • One episode of Futurama offered a vending machine full of "Farm Fresh" crack.

 Robot Van: Calling all scientists. There will be a conference on global warming in Kyoto Japan.

Man waving degree: I have a degree in homeopathic medicine!

Robot Van: You have a degree in baloney!

  • An almost-case: on the DVD interview for The Mitchell and Webb Situation, David Mitchell and Robert Webb discuss a sketch which was intended to parody this kind of mindset by being set in an 'all-natural' abortion clinic, which advocates a more 'earthy' and 'natural' method of abortion as opposed to the too 'clinical' methods available (the alternative methods as described essentially being, in the words of Mitchell, 'drinking a bottle of gin and throwing yourself down the stairs'). They removed it when they realized that the sketch instead made it look as if they thought abortion and miscarriage was itself funny, which wasn't the impression they wanted to give.
  • The Chaser's War On Everything has a stunt where they tried to see what people would try if they said it was "all natural" or a "new age remedy." They managed to get people to try such things as "Oil of Snake" and all natural "Bull Droppings." If you believe the commentaries, pretty much everyone they talked to was fooled.
  • "It's made with sap. From the forest. It is a concentration of all the vegetal [sic] properties."
  • Parodied in the play and movie Proof

 "It's organic."

"What do you mean?"

"You know, it doesn't have any chemicals in it."

"Something can be organic and still be a chemical. Ever heard of organic chemistry?"

    • Many familiar chemicals are composed of the same basic building blocks: hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. Including riboflavin (vitamin B2), LSD, heroin and atropine (extract of deadly nightshade). Their effects range from healthful, to...not so much.
    • Cyanide qualifies as organic in a strictly chemical sense as it is made of carbon and nitrogen. That's natural, right?
  • Kath and Kim. No, not the horrible American one, the Australian one.

  Its alright dear, I've used fat-free fat.

  • Dr. Atkins' Cholera Revolution!
  • Not exactly a parody, but an episode of Law and Order has a doctor fraudulently selling something like this as a breast cancer cure[9], with the result that several of her patients die due to their cancer going untreated. When she's finally cornered, she engages in a self-righteous rant about how modern medicine is failing millions of women by disregarding and patronizing them and that she's at least researching to find a cure. McCoy then points out that she should have probably told the women she sold it to that she was looking for a cure, rather than that she'd found one.
  • The whole bottled water thing was mocked in the Mother Nature's Son episode of Only Fools and Horses, with the bottled water coming from the tap and being bottled in a production line through their kitchen. Referenced a lot in UK media at the exact time Coca Cola's Dasani brand was also found out to be purely tap water, and made slightly more funny when it turned out that the real life example also had something in the water supply.
  • In this article, a man puts the idea that 'all natural' is the same as 'good for you' to the test- by eating all natural soap, toiletries, pet treats and aphrodisiacs.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, one of the guests on the PLR radio show Intelligent Agenda is Waylon Mason, who uses the show to promote his "home remedies" and attack the other two guests (a pharmaceutical company spokeswoman and an HMO spokesman) as shills of Big Pharma. The show ends with him giving involuntary trepanations to the other two guests in order to remove the "demons that are controlling them."
  • An episode of South Park has an New Age "healer" who buys various trinkets and concoctions from Cheech and Chong and passes them off as Native American remedies, including "tampons made from the hair of Cherokee." Things take a turn for the serious when Kyle starts suffering kidney failure and Mrs. Marsh recommends he sees said healer, who diagnoses his condition as "toxins" that need to be purged. When Stan tries to tell the healer that these treatments aren't working and needs to go to the hospital, he gets labeled a smart-ass and receives a bunk lecture on how Native American remedies are more in tune with nature than Western medicine, despite the fraud healer having no idea how these remedies work in the first place, let alone how to make them. It's not until C&C insist that Kyle needs to get to a hospital ASAP that anybody listens.
    • The healer tells Stan that Western medicine is all about making money and not about healing, immediately turning to a customer, "That'll be $200."
  • Parks and Recreation:

 Idiot citizen: What's so bad about corn syrup? It's natural. Corn's a fruit. And syrup comes from a bush.

  • A Far Side cartoon features an Igor-like character walking into a shop selling "unnatural foods".

Truth in Television: Real Life examples that sound like parodies:

  • In the 1920s and 1930s, there was a vogue for gland transplantation, especially procedures involving xenotransplants, or non-human tissue.
    • John R. Brinkley became rich and infamous by transplanting tissue from goats (mainly testicles or ovaries) into men and women. He initially promoted these procedures as treatments for impotence and infertility, but later claimed that they cured dozens of ailments, ranging from flatulence to dementia.
    • Serge Abrahamovitch Voronoff, after experimenting with injections of testicular tissue from dogs and guinea pigs, began treating patients by transplanting thyroid glands, testicles, and ovaries from simians such as chimpanzees and baboons.
      • Little has changed since then: testosterone-supplements are STILL an important ingredient in anti-aging quackery.
  • Homeopathic remedies claim to work on the principle of "like cures like". The idea is that an active substance (arsenic, for example) has "energy" that can be transferred to water by shaking a mixture vigorously (but homeopaths say that only they know how to do the proper kind of shaking), and the more times you repeat the mix-and-shake procedure (to the point that you'd be lucky[10] to get one molecule of the original substance in a swimming pool) the more powerful the energy gets. And water that's been energized by the arsenic that's been diluted out of it cures arsenic poisoning and any illness whose symptoms vaguely resemble arsenic poisoning.

    The whole deal sounds even less credible when one is told how this system was "discovered" and developed. It started out with a man having the idea of "fighting fire with fire" with his patients. They came in with say, symptom x, he prescribed them something which is supposed to cause symptom x (usually one poison or another--people don't seek medical aid for benevolent symptoms). He began experimenting with different doses of said poison, to find that the less he prescribed, the faster the person recovered, and so he began diluting his "medication" to a point there was little more then simple water left in it. As a side note, any time a homeopathic fan tells you that it's better than "modern Western medicine", point out that it was invented by a German in the 1800s. It tends to blow their minds.
    • Another incarnation of 'like fights like' was the doctrine of signatures. Basically: if a plant has leaves that look kinda like a human liver if you squint a bit, than that plant can be used for diseases of the liver. The theory was popular with galen and his contemporaries and was revived during the renaissance. The main 'proof' behind the idea was that god had been friendly enough to mark all beneficial herbs with a nice instruction-manual.
  • And let's not forget Radio-Active Water which was perfectly safe just like those natural radium sources being used as health springs at the time.
    • It turned out to be safer. The process used to irradiate the water only lasted a few hours. Problems started when someone realized this and built a radioactive thermos for the stuff.
  • Some Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) treatments are made with arsenic and mercury. But it's alright: the people who make them claim that the preparation removes all harm, leaving only the arsenic and mercury's natural good!
    • On the other hand, arsenic and mercury really do have medicinal uses, having been used as dangerous but effective medicines for cancer (arsenic) and syphilis (mercury) before modern pharmaceutical research developed better medicines...which were often (and sometimes still are) based on arsenic. Salvarsan, the first completely effective treatment for syphilis (and the first completely effective treatment for any disease), was an arsenic compound, and other arsenic compounds are still used in chemotherapy.
  • Chinese elixirs of immortality tended to include mercury, arsenic, gold, jade, and other minerals. The mound covering the tomb of Qin Shi Huang (the guy with the Terracotta Army) has significantly higher levels of mercury than the surrounding countryside.
    • His tomb had a scale model of his empire, with mercury oceans and rivers, since it evaporates slower than water. That more likely caused the high mercury levels, not the elixirs he took during his life.
    • Of course, Chinese immortality elixirs also occasionally contained sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal...and the potions Qin Shi Huang consumed avidly were largely of the mercury variety.
  • While the substance they're shilling (trelahose) probably isn't any more harmful than most sugars, the website for artificial sweetener NewSweet abuses the "Natural is Good, Artificial is Bad" aspect of this trope to the point that the title of their "all natural" page declares that NewSweet contains no chemicals. They reiterate it in the text as well. There doesn't seem to be any indication that it's a parody, so it seems their marketers really did fail physics forever.
  • In a radio debate, conservative commentator Laura Ingraham argued that abortion and birth control are inherently unhealthy for the woman because they alter her hormone levels, which can have side effects. Jessica Valenti, the feminist she was debating, pointed out that pregnancy is pretty hard to match for screwing with your hormone levels and has tons of potential complications. Ingraham, clearly appalled, started talking about how pregnancy is beautiful and natural and there can't be any comparison, etc.
    • Ingraham was sort of correct, though she didn't make her point very well; the Pill is more dangerous than pregnancy because it induces some of the same effects of pregnancy, divorced from the mechanisms the body uses to recover from being pregnant, these mechanisms also being interrupted by abortion to a similar effect. That is, artificial contraception and abortion are more dangerous because they're less natural. Of course, child birth itself has more things that can go deadly wrong than either of the two combined. All other things being equal, in fact, the death rate from child birth, even in developed countries, is slightly above the death rate for abortion.
    • Arguably, the difficulty arises from using "natural" equivocally; pregnancy is "natural" in the philosophical sense—a proper function of an organism—while what contraception induces (hormonally-caused infertility) would be considered a disease if it happened on its own, and abortion is a miscarriage. But the fact "natural" can mean "happens on its own" as well as "proper function" opens one to the Strawman counter-argument "oh but the means we use to make pregnancy safer are just as unnatural".
  • Ironically, actual snake oil is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids without the mercury problems that come with fatty ocean fish or the ecosystem-wrecking baggage of mass fish farming. Just don't expect miracles.
    • Still not sure that helps. Omega-3 fatty acids have never been scientifically and conclusively proven to be beneficial. Still doesn't stop their marketing as a food supplement though.
      • That's debatable. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/omega3/introduction.htm explains the 3 types of Omega-3s and how two of them have been found to lower blood pressure and that fish oil may benefit those with rheumatoid arthritis. While many studies failed to find definitive evidence of health effects from Omega-3s, this study found some beneficial effects on cardiovascular health: http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/tp/o3cardtp.htm .
      • To be absolutely fair, omega-3s are essential, and it's difficult to get them in a health-conscious American diet, with the typical American diet's taboo against eating anything with fat in it.
      • Omega-3 Fatty Acids are definitely important for your health, the same way vitamins and minerals are. What many studies have failed to find are concrete benefits beyond preventing deficiency, such as claims that it improves cognitive function or prevents heart disease. This is similar to the controversy surrounding megadosing of vitamins, where people claim benefits well beyond what the vitamins have been shown to actually do. That said, some studies have found concrete benefits for Omega-3 supplementation, and the benefits of eating fish a few times a week are not in doubt, it just isn't clear how much of that is due to the Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
      • Omega-3's have only been proven to be useful when you eat them when they're still in the fish.
  • The most powerful toxin known to humanity is completely natural. And is used in medicine. Ironically, that's the one example which actually works.
  • Most beef cattle are "finished" on corn, which is unhealthy for the cow, but fattens them up quickly and cheaply. Completely grass-fed cows fare better and produce higher quality meat, which is why they're the choice for high-end steak houses. However, while "grass fed" has a strict legal definition in the U.S, "finishing" does not. A "grass finished" is still finished on corn, but if some grass is waved in front of it before slaughter, it can still carry the label.
  • Echinacea. At first it seems reasonable by keeping its effects simple (reduces chances of catching the cold, and a cold's duration), but then you notice that every study saying so has something wrong with the procedure. Then the FDA did a proper study, and found that it does a lot of nothing. Another independent group (mentioned on the wikipedia page) did a quality check and found half the bottles didn't meet the claims on the label, and one of them was contaminated with lead. And yet people are still arguing about its effectiveness...

Notes

  1. In case you're wandering, they advertised it as "Bottled spunk", unaware that spunk is a slang term for semen. Naturally this was a bit offputting.
  2. they're usually just as unhealthy as the fast food place's regular selection, if not more so
  3. many of them are as fattening as candy bars thanks to all the chocolate and processed fruit they have, and the ones that aren't taste like, well, granola
  4. they're still almost as fatty as regular muffins
  5. they have about two-thirds the sugar of a can of Coke or Pepsi, and the "low-calorie" versions have artificial sweeteners, which the granola crowd thinks are of questionable safety
  6. Made from palm oil, almost as much a source of Colombian unrest as cocaine.
  7. It's soybeans blasted with hexane to isolate the oil from the protein.
  8. By their testicles, and throws them through the roof
  9. which was based on the already banned "cure," Laetrile
  10. or, in the case of arsenic, unlucky
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