Despite Shirai and Kunin's analyses, snake oil retains its fraudulent feel in the U.S., perhaps because the Japanese research is not widely known and we were only beginning to understand the need for omega-3's when Kunin published his analysis. "That study came out at the time that we were beginning to appreciate that we did indeed require omega-3's," Allport says. "The first medical reason people were looking at omega-3's was for arthritis…. [But] all of our cells in our bodies have a certain amount of omega-3's in them. Now we concentrate [research] on the brain and the heart because those are organs that have a higher concentration. But all our cells need these fats in them."
Of course, most 19th-century snake oil salesmen did not, in fact, sell this particular product. Even those hucksters who did sell actual snake oil would likely have sold the rattlesnake variety, nearly useless for any ache-relieving medicinal purpose. But the original Chinese purveyors of snake oil offered something that probably did exactly what they claimed it would do: help fellow workers relieve the pain of their labors.