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Black Cohosh and Lydia Pinkham

An article in the medical journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine shows that remifemin, an extract from the black cohosh plant, controls menopausal depression and hot flushes. This multi-million dollar herbal product is sold today by one of the largest drug companies in the world, GlaxoSmithKlein. It was also the number one selling patent medicine 125 years ago.

Lydia Estes was born in 1819 in Lynn, Massachusetts. In 1843 she married the wealthy real estate broker, Isaac Pinkham. When their business went bankrupt in 1875, Lydia began to market an herbal tonic. She was a brilliant advertiser. She placed a picture of her own matronly face on her patent medicine, and became associated with her product line in a way that would not be surpassed until 80 years later, when Col. Harlan Sanders used his face to advertise Kentucky Fired Chicken. She published articles and answered letters in ladies magazines, handed out free pamphlets, and gave advice that always included a recommendation to take a dose of "Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound." She founded the first widely successful business run by a woman in America. She advertised to women, selling a medicine for "all those painful Complaints and Weaknesses so common to our best female population." Even though Mrs. Pinkham had been in the temperance movement, she had studied human nature, and always put alcohol in her herbal product "to act as [a] solvent and preservative," She knew that alcohol appears to solve some problems, at least temporarily.

In 1876, the same year as the Vegetable Compound was patented, American physicians were urging the removal of healthy ovaries as a treatment for vaginal cramps. Unfortunately for the women who went to their male doctors for such treatment, almost 40 percent died because of unsanitary conditions at surgery and lack of proper antibiotics. At that time, Lydia Pinkham's vegetable compound certainly was far less destructive than the doctors' recommendations.

Lydia Pinkham never saw the full effect of her empire since she died in 1883, but her Vegetable Compound made her family a fortune, grossing $300,000 annually by her death and peaking in 1925 at $3.8 million per year. The secret ingredient in her tonic was not revealed to the pubic until a few years ago: black cohosh. Research now shows that black cohosh may help alleviate hot flushes of menopause.

Black cohosh: Efficacy, safety, and use in clinical and preclinical applications. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 2001, Vol 7, Iss 3, pp 93-100. DJ McKenna, K Jones, S Humphrey, K Hughes. McKenna DJ, Inst Nat Prod Res Marine, St Croix,MN USA

Checked 7/22/14

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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