Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Is This Woo?

I love Orac. He is funny, insightful and brilliant -- not necessarily in that order. Respectful Insolence is one of the most wonderful things I have found in my brief (3 months to date) sojourn in the medical blogosphere. I just love him.

In response to this discussion of his about the woo/non-woo interface in medicine, I submit the following:

Many years ago, I first heard about the use of potatoes for the treatment of warts. I figured it was cheap and harmless, and the worst it could do was nothing; so I began recommending it to patients -- with the full understanding that it was a folk remedy with no known medical proof of its efficacy.

As it happened, over the years two of my three children came down with plantar warts. The first time, it was my daughter when she was about 5. After her bath (when the skin was still moist) I took an old, sprouting potato and cut it in half. I rubbed the cut potato edges on the wart, then covered it with a bandaid overnight. The next morning I forgot about it (she and her twin brother and the baby had to get off to daycare.) I also forgot about it that night. The night after, I remembered again and we repeated the procedure with a freshly cut, old sprouting potato. Covered it with a bandaid. Forgot about it. A few days later, I remembered and called my daughter over.

Me: Let me see your foot. (No wart. Wrong foot?) Let me see your other foot.


As it happened, a few years later her little brother developed a strange plantar lesion. I even ended up taking him to my friendly neighborhood dermatologist, who wasn't sure it was a wart (I'm good enough at derm so when I send something, it's either very rare or really atypical-looking) but when he shaved it a bit, he revealed those little black spots that bled. Wart it was. Potato again for a couple of nights (this time I sliced the old sprouting potato into about 1 inch slices and used all the cut edges, to get the most potato juice on it) and voila! Wart gone.

Because I love Orac, I know that "evidence" is not the plural of "anecdote." (I love that line.) But still, I was batting 2 for 2 at home, and about 50% over the years at the office.

My full potato treatment consists of debriding the wart by shaving it down in the office as much as I can, then instructing the patient in the key points, which are:
  1. Moist skin (bedtime, after bath/shower)
  2. Old potato; must be sprouting
  3. Saturate the lesion with juice from fresh slices
  4. Cover overnight
  5. Pick or emery board away dead tissue
  6. Repeat nightly as necessary
Orac requires a scientifically plausible hypothesis for the mechanism of action. Here's mine:

Perhaps by the time a potato has begun to sprout, the flesh has produced enzymes (to allow the sprout to break through the potato skin) that also have keratolytic and/or virucidal properties. I know I should try to perform an RCT (or persuade someone else to) but I just haven't gotten around to it. I would love to see an organic chemist with some time on his or her hands do an analysis of sprouty potatoes and, if possible, isolate the active compound. We'd make a fortune. I already have a name: VerucaSpud.

And so I put it to the medical blogosphere: is this woo?


At Wed Dec 13, 09:38:00 AM, Blogger Big Lebowski Store said...

Need investors? I gotta get in on the ground floor with this one!


At Wed Dec 13, 06:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duct tape left on until well macerated &/or for a week then repeated until gone works too!

At Wed Dec 13, 07:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have heard that biofeedback works, too. Imagine the wart gone...

Interesting post, I thought the potato worked because the virus cannot live in acid. So I did a quick ph test of an old potato (wrinkly but no sprouts. Ph was about 6. Forget that theory.
Maybe the sprouts are a requirement?

At Wed Dec 13, 10:09:00 PM, Blogger Medblog Addict said...

Not that I’m trying to cause trouble or anything, but I think you should know that Dr. Schwab may have thrown down the gauntlet to you in my comment section. Something about primary doctors interfering with the care of his patients after surgery. . .

(Sorry about the off topic comment)

At Thu Dec 14, 08:42:00 AM, Blogger Dr Dork said...

It's not evidence, sure, but most advances are a result of a hypothesis initially without evidence, perhaps, or serendipity that becomes anecdote, or a hypothesis that initially seems unreasonable.'ve been tagged with a Christmas meme.


At Thu Dec 14, 09:51:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

The other Orac-ism that I picked up and find very useful is anecdata.

VerucaSpud, are you sure? Not SpudUSpike or Attack of the Killer Enzymes (may have many more uses than just verrucae).

Regards - Shinga

At Thu Dec 14, 12:56:00 PM, Blogger Sid Schwab said...

I think there may be something to the maceration thing, be it from duct tape or potato skins. I can attest that the milk from milkweed doesn't work, having been talked into applying it daily when I was in high school, working as a gardener. I agree about Orac. Great stuff. And don't let that lawyer lady stir up trouble. Got enough as it is.


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