On Monday, South Korean customs officials made the horrifying announcement that they had confiscated over 17 thousand capsules stuffed with the dried, powdered flesh of babies. The pills, smuggled in from the northeastern province of Jilin, China, are taken as a general tonic and stamina booster.
The BBC reports that a customs official told the Korea Times, "It was confirmed those capsules contain materials harmful to the human body, such as super bacteria. We need to take tougher measures to protect public health." No one has come forward to admit to becoming sick, but then, why would anyone willingly admit to consuming the ghoulish elixir?
Baby pills are perhaps the most shocking product used for medicinal purposes, but they are by no means the only one. The World Wildlife Foundation reports that the demand for tiger bone and rhino horn for use in some traditional Chinese medicines has pushed species close to extinction. The use of bile from the gall bladders of bears has also decimated bear populations in Asia.
During the 2008 Olympics, Chinese official banned athletes from using other strange substances including deer penis and turtles blood. Both are thought to remedy sports injuries. Deer penis, along with tiger's penis, is also touted as an aphrodisiac.
In India, where Hindus hold the cow to be sacred, some healers tout the healing properties of bovine urine. According to a report by the BBC, Thai alternative medicine practitioners recommend patients also drink urine-their own-as a tonic. The practice is also documented in ancient Chinese, Egyptian and Indian medical texts. An investigation by the Independent revealed that "auto-urine therapy" is not unknown in the West, and that the writer J.D. Salinger reportedly imbibed.
While urine is highly sterile, there is no evidence it, nor any of the most bizarre substances people consume to improve their health, has a medicinal benefit. However, though the placebo effect, any substance, as long as it doesn't poison you, could potentially be curative. For reasons that are still not completely clear to scientists, belief is a powerful medicine. Placebos have been successfully used in clinical trials to treat conditions as diverse as depression and Parkinson's disease.
Still, the taboo against eating human flesh runs deep in the human psyche and is associated with the most depraved psychotics. How the would-be consumers (and manufacturers) of desiccated infant capsules made the mental and moral leap from cannibalism to cure-all is a story that still needs to be unraveled.