by Hannah Bauman
HerbalGram. 2017; American Botanical Council
Respected academic researcher and American Botanical Council (ABC) Board of Trustees member Fredi Kronenberg, PhD, died at home on April 20, 2017, after a lengthy illness. Kronenberg’s long and fruitful career focused on the area of women’s health, particularly menopause and the study of alternative therapies for hot flashes. She championed the cause of integrative medicine in the worlds of academia and clinical research, with a particular interest in the use of plants such as black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Ranunculaceae) that contain phytoestrogens. Her affiliation with ABC began in 1996, when she joined the Advisory Board as an expert source and reviewer. In 1999, she joined the ABC Board of Trustees, on which she served until her death.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in neurobiology from Cornell University and doctorate in physiology from Stanford University, Kronenberg became interested in women’s health and menopause during her postdoctoral studies at Columbia University. As a result, in 1989, she co-founded the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), a nonprofit organization that promotes the health and quality of life of women experiencing menopause and seeks to further understand menopause and healthy aging through a multidisciplinary approach.
Kronenberg questioned why the medical community had a general prejudice against herbal medicine, and her lifelong love of nature inspired her to pursue research on botanical-based therapies. In 1990, she attended the first Sino-American Conference on Women’s Issues in China, where she observed the use of herbs for women’s health issues in accordance with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practices. The discussions at this conference prompted her to further pursue TCM through a program at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), and she received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study and collaborate on TCM and women’s health with Fudan University in Shanghai.
In 1992, Kronenberg co-founded the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, the first complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) program at an Ivy League medical center. The center, which closed in 2007, served as a blueprint for similar facilities at medical schools around the country. The Rosenthal Center attracted much support, and became an NIH-funded research center from 1994-1997 with research programs in phytochemistry, ethnobotanical studies, and clinical studies. Under the auspices of the center, Kronenberg collaborated with ABC Advisory Board member Edward Kennelly, PhD, to research the constituents and effects of black cohosh.
The Rosenthal Center had a strong educational mission, and it sponsored a continuing medical education course in botanical medicine for health care practitioners interested in integrating alternative medicines and therapies into their practices. The course, “Botanical Medicine in Modern Clinical Practice,” held at Columbia University and the NYBG, ran for 10 years and was co-directed by Kronenberg, Michael Balick, PhD, and Andrew Weil, MD.
Christine Wade, MPH, worked closely with Kronenberg at the Rosenthal Center. “Fredi was dedicated to women’s health care choices as a very young scientist,” Wade wrote (email, May 2, 2017). “She was the first physiologist to describe a common thermoregulatory process (hot flashes at menopause) in women. Her subjects were a subset of women who were afflicted by many or long periods of hot flashes.... Discussions with the women she studied led to a long career of investigating how women navigate their health and increasing evidence-based treatment options for conditions that women suffer and that health care systems often ignore. She courageously and resiliently never let go of the importance of such questions.”
Kronenberg was a founding editor of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and served on the editorial board for numerous publications, including Menopause, Journal of Tropical Medicinal Plants, EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, and Journal of Women’s Health. She was also a founding member of the Consortium of Academic Medical Centers for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In addition to the many research articles she authored and co-authored, Kronenberg collaborated with Raymond Cooper, PhD, on the book Botanical Medicine: From Bench to Bedside (Mary Ann Liebert Inc., 2009).
At the time of her death, Kronenberg was affiliated with the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, the University of Arizona College of Medicine, and the NYBG, in addition to ABC. She also held a position at Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, where she conducted research on hot flashes and worked with colleagues to expand Stanford’s integrative medicine program.
As a visiting scientist at the NYBG, she worked closely with Balick, who is also an ABC Board of Trustees member, on a collaborative ethnomedicinal project in New York City that examined medicinal plants used by different ethnic communities in the city. This work helped develop a field of study known as urban ethnobotany.
In Kronenberg’s 2010 profile in issue 85 of HerbalGram, Balick was quoted as saying: “Fredi brings dignity, humility, inquisitiveness, humor, empathy and an extraordinary sense of kindness and camaraderie to whatever she is involved with. She has done so much for so many people, shaping the trajectory of their lives and career paths in a very positive and innovative way, while at the same time asking for nothing in return — a true scholar, idealist, visionary, friend, and champion of integrative medicine.”1
“This [quote] is as true today as when I wrote it back in 2010,” Balick commented (email, May 4, 2017), “and a fitting tribute to my dear friend.”
Kronenberg’s work for the mission of ABC cannot be understated, said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. He added:
ABC owes so much to Fredi, and her contributions are difficult to measure. She was connected to many people in the alternative and complementary medicine world and directly and indirectly introduced them to me, particularly through her invitation to participate on the faculty of all 10 of her week-long botanical medicine training courses at Columbia. In addition to Fredi’s direct role on the ABC Board of Trustees, she is responsible for many of the professional affiliations and personal friendships that have had an indelible impact on the direction of ABC’s research and educational programs over the years.
John Cardellina, PhD, former vice president of botanical science and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), also recalled Kronenberg’s friendliness and acumen. “She was among the first key players in the botanical world that I met when I came to CRN,” he wrote (email to M. Blumenthal, April 22, 2017). “She was welcoming and helpful to me, and always took a minute to say ‘hi’ and catch up. She will always stand out in my mind as one of the really good people and knowledgeable scientists in this field.”
Kronenberg received numerous recognitions and accolades for her work in women’s health and in the field of herbal medicine. She was named as one of “Ten Heroes for Women’s Health” in 1997 after receiving the American Health for Women Award, and was recognized by NAMS with its A Friend Indeed Award. Kronenberg also received the 2004 NAMS/GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Botanicals Research Award, the 2005 NAMS/Duramed Pharmaceuticals Vasomotor Symptoms Research Award, the 2008 NAMS/Amerifit Brands Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Award, and, most recently, a clinical research prize from the European Society of Integrative Medicine for a study that she co-authored.2
In her spare time, Kronenberg was an avid photographer, and colleagues often remember her with a camera in hand, taking thousands of pictures during travel and field trips. She also enjoyed music, particularly folk, jazz, classical, and bluegrass. “I grew up with folk music, as my mom played guitar, and as soon as I was big enough to pick one up, I learned to play,” Kronenberg was quoted as saying in her HerbalGram profile.1
Jacqueline Wootton, founder and former editor of the HerbMedPro database, acknowledged Kronenberg’s wide array of accomplishments and her commitment and passion for her work. “Fredi was always kind, generous, and positive,” she wrote (email to M. Blumenthal, April 28, 2017). “Her warm smile and support encouraged her team to excel in their goals. Fredi was ever open to innovative suggestions and eager to explore new ideas and assess their potential. Her questions and challenges were perceptive and insightful, leading to finely honed, enduring projects. Never a self-publicist, Fredi quietly made a large impact on the field of botanical and integrative medicine.”
Other colleagues similarly remember Kronenberg’s years of dedication. “I learned from and worked with Fredi for the past 16 years on the New York Botanical Conference, a joint initiative between Columbia University and the University of Arizona, and on the Nutrition and Health Conference,” wrote Victoria Maizes, MD, executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and a professor of medicine, family medicine, and public health at the University of Arizona, in a listserve dated April 25, 2017. “She was … a passionate pioneer with many innovative ideas! She was easy to love and admire. She lived life fully.”
Tieraona Low Dog, MD, praised Kronenberg’s commitment to CAM research and education. “Integrative medicine lost a leader in the research community,” she wrote (email, May 4, 2017). “Whether studying bees during grad school or black cohosh in women transitioning through menopause, Fredi had a deep curiosity of the world. Her open-mindedness towards herbal and complementary medicines was only dwarfed by her big open heart, a warm place that she allowed so many of us to dwell. She will be deeply missed.”
Fredi Kronenberg is survived by her mother Honey, sister Kim, brother-in-law Allen, and stepfather Gene. She was 67 years old.
1. Lindner KE. Meet ABC board member Fredi Kronenberg: physiologist and CAM expert. HerbalGram. 2010;85:12-13.
2. Wade C, Wang L, Zhao WJ, et al. Acupuncture point injection treatment of primary dysmenorrhoea: a randomised, double blind, controlled study. BMJ Open. 2016;6:e008166.