I was surprised to learn, as you may be (or not), that the song “Lily The Pink” is based on a real person. The fun song from my childhood refers, loosely, to the exploits of a woman named Lydia Pinkham and her creation “Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound” from 1875. This homemade cure was marketed towards women for menstrual cramps and particularly menopause but was accompanied by more far reaching claims of efficacy including but not limited to headaches, sleeplessness, indigestion, depression and even apparently uterine cancer.

In the days before regulation of medical claims Lydia made a fortune from aggressive promotion of her untested concoction. By creating an culture of fear regarding established medicine and painting her business as the friendly alternative to the cold and impersonal scientific medical practice she became very successful. One of the alleged active ingredients in Lydia’s compound was Black Cohosh, a recent trial by the US National Institutes of Health has determined that it is of no use for relieving the symptoms of menopause.

Today it seems that herbal supplements and alternative medicines, as Lydia’s compound did, have free reign to make unsubstantiated health claims. That the same tactics that Lydia’s company employed to sell their dubious cure-all still work today is dismaying considering the general increase in education level seen among the public in the intervening years. These companies still prey on the general population’s fears concerning the increasingly complicated medical field, and profit from instilling distrust of the very technologies that make living in this age so comfortable and safe.

Resources

http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-12-12.html

http://www.skeptic.com/downloads/Lily_the_Pink.mp3

http://www.thebards.net/music/lyrics/Lily_The_Pink.shtml Original Version Lyrics

http://www.go2lyrics.com/scaffold-lily-the-pink-lyrics-song.html Revised Version

http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/333/7564/0-e?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Black+cohosh&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT