The boneyard of forgotten woo, but better

A fascination with quackery was one of the things that inspired me to start this blog. Some of it was disbelief that anyone could take some of the modalities that I write about seriously. Perhaps one of the most prominent examples of this reaction was when I first learned that there were people who are actually antivaccine. I’m sorry (well, no I’m not), antivaccine views are utter hogwash, and there’s no good evidence that they they cause autism. There aren’t fetal parts in vaccines, nor are there deadly toxins. What chemicals that are there are not dangerous. Moving on to the broader area of quackery, supplements and coffee enemas will not cure you if you have cancer, nor will high dose vitamin C. Cancer is not caused by a liver fluke, and you can’t cure it by using a device that looks like an e-meter to zap it. And, really, people, if you fall for detox foot baths, your gullibility knows no bounds.

Some quack devices, though, are amusing enough that I rather enjoy taking a look at them. For instance, do you remember Rejuvenique? No? Well, it has been well over three years since I first wrote about it. Basically, it’s a face mask with sensors and electrodes in it that the wearer hooks up to a nine volt battery in order to exercise the facial muscles and “rejuvenate” the face. I called that post The Boneyard of Forgotten Woo. Consider the topic of today’s post to be The Boneyard of Forgotten Woo, part II. I say that because I think I’ve found the precursor of the Rejuvenique. It operates on similar principals, but even more so. It predates the Rejuvenique by around 30 years, and it’s called the Relax-A-Cisor, and it’s being sold on E-Bay by Strange Vintage (note the a couple of the pictures from the manual scanned in might not be safe for work; however if you click on the links those pictures are there too, and I also think that the pictures are essential to convey just how nutty this device is):

The Relax-A-Cizor is an Electrical Muscle Stimulator. They date from the late 1940’s to the early 1970’s, and sold for $200- $400. It claims to reduce girth by giving electric shocks to the muscles. Wet pads are strapped or placed on the body, attached by cords to a power source. Pads can be placed on the stomach, thighs, arms, etc., even the face. Then you just lie there and electric shock yourself into a fabulous figure, yay! Sounds scary, huh?

In 1971 the FDA declared the Relax-A Cizor to be dangerous, causing or aggravating medical conditons. This is after selling thousands of units for decades! The FDA ordered the destruction of units, or for them to be made inoperable. They also banned the resale of already purchased units. So, given all that information, this auction is for the purpose of Collecting Medical Quackery Items only. This Relax-A-Cizor is not being sold as an excercise or fitness machine.

The seller also notes, amusingly, how the only warning in the documentation is not to store the moist pads inside of the Relax-A-Cizor case, warning the consumer that to do so could void the warranty.

And you really have to love the pictures in the brochure, which the seller was kind enough to include in the listing, particularly the pad placement charts. I couldn’t resist cherry picking a few such images for your amusement:



Then, shades of Rejuvenique, we have the face electrodes. Yes, I know they call them pads, but, really, what are they but electrodes? Take a look:


And, in order to have a more shapely figure, there’s the…well…harness. That’s about all I can think of to call it. It’s a harness with electrodes. I must admit, the choice of location for these electrodes is somewhat puzzling. Is it supposed to contract the pectoralis major muscle to give an illusion of a bigger bust? Who knows? Only the designers of the device know for sure, and, given that the Relax-A-Cizer first went on sale 63 years ago, they’re probably all dead (or at least really, really old):



But, best of all, you have to hook up the electrodes to pads that must be soaking wet. The instructions are very explicit and insistent about that, as you can see here:



I tell ya, ya can’t make stuff like this up. Basically, here we have a device that requires its user to hook herself up in a harness with wet pad electrodes on it and then hook herself up to electricity, all in order to stimulate muscles and allegedly zap that cellulite away. Even more amazing, this device was sold for over 20 years, from around 1949 until the FDA finally shut the company down in 1970. According to Quackwatch, more than 400,000 of these devices were sold during that time period. At the hearings about this device, forty witnesses testified that they had been injured while using thos bizarre machine. (I can only marvel that it wasn’t many more.) In the end, the judge concluded that the device could cause miscarriages and aggravate preexisting medical conditions, including hernias, ulcers, varicose veins, and epilepsy. In actuality, reading this I tend to doubt that the device could do any such thing, with the possible exception of aggravating hernias (if the pads are in the right location to cause muscle contractions near a hernia) and possibly epilepsy. Be that as it may, the device is utterly ridiculous and can’t possibly do what was claimed for it. And it sold for over 20 years, and apparently sold well.

Finally, I found it rather amusing when my Googling turned up the fact that the Relax-A-Cizor had been featured on Mad Men. Oddly enough, I didn’t remember that episode at all. Then I realized that the episode (Indian Summer) aired during the show’s first season, and I didn’t start watching Mad Men until the second season. Hmmm. One of these days I have to rent the first season on DVD and watch all those episodes that I missed. In any case, the device as described in the episode doesn’t sound quite as elaborate as the real Relax-A-Cizor. Still, I can’t think of a better advertising agency than Sterling Cooper to promote a quack device like this, along with Lucky Strikes.

In the end, though, is the Relax-A-Cizor really that ridiculous? Why, yes. Yes it is. Even by the scientific standards of 1949 it was thoroughly ridiculous. But it’s no more ridiculous than the Gerson therapy, which says that placing coffee into an orifice where coffee does not belong can cure cancer or that vaccines can cause autism. In terms of plausibility, there really isn’t that much difference. So much quackery is so ridiculous, but for some reason quackery like the Relax-A-Cizor becomes popular (and no doubt would still be selling today if the FDA hadn’t shut the company down), while other is dismissed. In any case, I’m sure the Relax-A-Cizor lives on in the form of other quack devices. Indeed, Rejuvenique was nothing more than a modification of the face attachment of a Relax-A-Cizor-like device. One wonders what the quacks will think of next as a variation on this theme.