7 Things Creepier Than Babies Found in Pills

If you heard the news about the shipment of smuggled pills from China to South Korea recently, you were surely horrified by its main ingredient: powdered dead babies. Customs officials stopped a shipment of about 17,000 capsules containing the dried flesh from dead fetuses, which are thought to increase stamina. While these pills are seriously disturbing, this isn’t the first time that gross, unconventional ingredients have been put into capsules throughout history. Some of the ingredients are just as creepy — maybe even creepier — than the most recent discovery. Take these seven, for example, with a full glass of water.

  1. Bear bile

    In China, South Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, Asian black bears are kept in tiny cages and “milked” for the digestive juices in their gall bladders. The bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) which is thought to relieve a variety of problems, from fever to gallstones to epilepsy. To get the bile, the bear farms either legally make a permanent hole in the bear’s abdomen so the bile can drip out, or illegally, they insert metal catheters or rubber tubes into the bear’s gall bladder, a painful method that has been banned. You can find pills and other products made from this bile in traditional medicine shops across the region.

  2. Tapeworms

    Because tapeworms are well known for their voracious appetites, taking nutrients and calories from their hosts, they have long been used by men and women desperate to lose weight. Pharmacists are rumored to have sold tapeworms enclosed in capsules in the early 20th century; jockeys supposedly used them to stay ultra-light as did actresses and models. Not creeped out yet? Just wait. Tapeworms can grow up to 20 feet long inside their hosts’ intestines and lay millions of eggs over several years. And the egg sacs can crawl — even out of your anus! You might lose weight, but that pretty much cancels out any attractiveness you gained.

  3. Placenta

    It’s someone’s job to turn the placenta, that bloody sac of nutrients that feeds a fetus until it comes out when the baby’s born, into pills for the new mother to take. Based on Chinese medicine and the observation that most mammals eat their placenta, the idea has taken root in America, where placenta encapsulation specialists cook the placenta, dry it out on a jerky maker, and then make into a powder using a coffee grinder. Some people believe that this afterbirth helps energy, milk production, and postpartum depression.


  1. Filtered feces

    A certain bacterium that’s found in your digestive tract, Clostridium difficile, can be a problem if it gets out of hand, causing symptoms as minor as diarrhea to the dangerous possibility of colon inflammation. If someone consistently has problems with the bacteria and doesn’t respond to antibiotics, they can consider a fecal transplant, a process where a donor’s stool sample is filtered and then injected into the colon of the patient. Another method, called Autologous Restoration of Gastrointestinal Flora, or ARGF, uses a stool sample from the patient when they’re healthy and stores it until they need it. If the patient develops a C. difficile problem, the filtered feces is freeze-dried and put into a capsule for the patient to consume.

  2. Spider webs

    Ague, a form of malaria that caused the sufferer to shiver uncontrollably at times, used to be common in Britain, and local doctors would try all kinds of strange methods to cure it. One of these was recommending the patient take a pill made of compressed spider webs before breakfast each day. Another version of the treatment was to eat the spider itself. There are no records stating whether either method worked.

  3. Antimony

    The chemical element antimony (Sb on the periodic table for you science nerds) is a metallic, toxic element with effects similar to that of arsenic. Back in the 1800s when people thought the best way to treat an illness was to just drain it from the system, those effects seemed positive. When people wanted to sweat, vomit, and relieve constipation, they’d take a pill made out of pure antimony. Since it wouldn’t break down in the system, it could be retrieved whole from the person’s feces and reused by that person or his family members, and passed on to future generations. Because of this, it was sometimes known as the everlasting pill.

  4. Snakes

    Available all over the Internet, these China-made Trisnake Pills unsurprisingly contain ingredients from three different snakes: the long-nosed pit viper, the many-banded krait, and the black snake. The pills are supposed to help skin health, circulation, and the immune system, as well as aiding sleep and increasing your appetite. For the cure to be most effective, you’re supposed to take about nine pills a day. If consuming that much snake juice doesn’t make you feel creepy-crawly all over, nothing will.

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