Recently these pages witnessed a dramatic debate over whether astrology could be or had been proven in the now defunct Skeptics Challenge. (I learned my lesson – as revealed by a commentator, skeptics don’t have an open mind but require scientific, not experiential, proof.) At any rate, this appeared in our local newspaper column, the People’s Pharmacy: No Science Behind Soap Remedy.

Sometimes a remedy defies logic. Usually there’s no science to support it either. That’s certainly the case when it comes to putting a bar of soap under the bottom sheet to stop leg cramps or restless legs.

One reader (who happens to have doctorates in biomedical engineering and physics) took us to task for suggesting this remedy. He asked, “What is the mechanism of action for a bar of soap under your sheets for relieving any type of pain? Answering that this is anything but an old wives’ tale discredits everything you have done in the name of science.

“As a fellow scientist and university faculty member, I feel it is your responsibility to educate your readers using accepted scientific principles. When you do not, you are performing a disservice to the rest of us.

We can’t pretend that soap under the sheet is anything more than a folk remedy. We can’t explain how it would work, and we don’t know for sure that it does. Nonetheless, we have been impressed with readers reporting success.

One wrote: “I’ve been a long-time sufferer of sciatica. Recently, I was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease resulting in tarsal tunnel syndrome in my left foot. The pain was nearly unbearable. After your column on the soap mystery, I could not believe it but I thought I have little to lose.

“I keep the bar of soap underneath my sheets all the time. It’s been over a month, and I’ve been noticing much less pain and more energy. I shared the article with a co-worker who also is benefiting. Her sister, a nurse, is puzzled by this.”

Their training may predispose nurses to be cautious: “Being a nurse, I was VERY skeptical about the soap remedy. Statin medicines give me leg cramps. I decided the bar of soap could do no harm. It worked the very first night and has continued to work for the past three months. I can’t figure out how it can possibly help, but it does.”

Another reader found a bar of soap more helpful than prescription pain relievers: “I had an unsuccessful replacement of my right knee 18 months ago and my left thigh suffers from meralgia paresthetica (thigh nerve pain).

The article goes on with more testimonials. This is not a column written by wackos, these people have degrees in pharmacology and Joe is a consultant to the FTC. I tried to find an article debunking the soap remedy, but all I found were more testimonials and the odd fact that the remedy doesn’t work with Dial or Dove. But the point is that not everything can be explained by science. Some things just work!

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