Chinese immigrants working on the Transcontinental Railroad used snake oil to treat their sore muscles.
Chinese water-snake oil contains 20 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used by our bodies. Salmon, one of the most popular food sources of omega-3s, contains a maximum of 18 percent EPA, lower than that of snake oil.
Omega-3s reduce inflammation in muscles and joints. Hearing about this, fraudulent medicine salesmen started selling “rattlesnake oil”. Rattlesnakes have far less omega-3 fatty acid, but nevertheless, the medicine never included any actual snake oil.