In India thousands of people come to Hyderabad in South India, a city of about four million, to receive a dose of secret paste which is believed by some to cure asthma. The secret herbal paste is first placed in the mouth of a two to three inch live fish, then the fish is swallowed.
The live fish is said to move inside the body in a manner that reduces suffering from asthma, “…live fish travels, wagging its tail and fins, through the throat and negotiates the phlegm congestion.” Another source says the explanation for the cure is the movement of the fish clears phlegm in the lungs. It isn’t clear though, how a small live fish in the stomach would be clearing phlegm in the lungs. For this year’s event, one report says 150,000 of the small fish have been acquired so people can swallow them with the secret paste.
Reportedly the treatment has been distributed by the same family for over 100 years. “About 25 people know this formula. We have all been regularly practicing fish therapy for the last 162 years.” The Bathini family has been offering the fish therapy for generations. The origin of the secret paste supposedly is from a Himalayan guru who bestowed it upon a farmer in 1845. The farmer promised to keep the ingredients a secret and distribute it free of charge to the afflicted. Today, his descendants carry on the practice. A local physician remarked on the family’s perspective, “Goud said in a television interview that the fish induces the release of certain enzymes in the stomach. Asthma is not related to the esophagus or the stomach lining or to the release of enzymes.”
One speculation for why it is believed this “fish therapy” could work is the idea asthma is a digestive tract-based allergic condition. In the West, asthma is conceived of as being lung-based, and due to constriction of the bronchial tubes, and inflammation of them as well.
There has been no scientific research to date proving the fish therapy has any effectiveness in treating asthma. In 2006 a court stated there isn’t a medical value to the practice, but it also hasn’t been found to be harmful, so it determined there is no need to interfere.
There are some problems with the live fish practice:
- Live fish can contain intestinal parasites (helminths).
- It is not a proven therapy, and so offers false hope.
- Some people are allergic to fish, and if already suffering from asthma, eating a fish could make their condition worse.
- Swallowing a live fish could cause panic in some people, and strong emotional reactions can trigger asthma attacks.
Image Credit: Gregory