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Meet ABC Board Member Fredi Kronenberg: Physiologist and CAM Expert

Meet ABC Board Member Fredi Kronenberg: Physiologist and CAM Expert

Fredi Kronenberg, PhD, a physiologist, expert on women’s health and alternative treatments for menopause, and founding editor of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, has served on the American Botanical Council’s (ABC) Board of Trustees since 1999. (Prior to that, she served on ABC’s Advisory Board from 1996–1999.)

Dr. Kronenberg became fascinated with nature at an early age; she said she remembers picking up leaves and snails as soon as she could grasp them (e-mail, F. Kronenberg, November 4, 2009). She earned her bachelor’s degree in neurobiology and behavior (ethology) from Cornell University, then obtained her doctorate in physiology from Stanford University, where she studied the thermoregulation of honey bees.

While in California, she became involved in the emerging women’s health movement and developed an interest in holistic medicine. In 1989, she co-founded the North American Menopause Society, which is now in its 20th year.

She visited China in 1990 to participate in the first Sino-American Conference on Women’s Issues. “Our Chinese colleagues discussed herbs that they use for women’s issues, particularly for menopausal hot flashes,” said Dr. Kronenberg (oral communication, November 4, 2009). When she returned, she attended a program at the New York Botanical Garden on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and later she received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to collaborate on research regarding women’s health and TCM with Fudan University in Shanghai, China.

Dr. Kronenberg began to explore herbal medicine, curious as to why the medical establishment had a general prejudice against it at that time. According to Dr. Kronenberg, even a professor at Stanford told her: “Establish your credentials in science first, before going into these areas that are far afield that nobody wants to fund.”

Dr. Kronenberg did not accept that herbal medicine did not have a place in mainstream medicine. Instead, in 1993, she co-founded and served as the first and only director of the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, the first broad-based complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) program at a major medical center in the United States.

“We started it with very little money and soon garnered NIH support to broaden our efforts,” said Dr. Kronenberg. “We were at the leading edge of a wave that slowly spread to other academic medical centers.”

According to Dr. Kronenberg, many people were excited about the potential of the new center once it was initiated, although there were also some skeptics. There were also other medical schools who wanted to watch and “see if we succeeded before setting up similar programs,” she said.

The Rosenthal Center developed a comprehensive program of research, including basic science, phytochemistry, ethnobotanical studies, surveys, and clinical research.1 It created a research program on black cohosh (Actaea racemosa; syn: Cimicifuga racemosa, Ranunculaceae), used particularly in Europe to treat hot flashes during menopause. The center’s other primary mission was education. It sponsored a one-week on-site continuing medical education (CME) course in botanical medicine at Columbia University for doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who wanted to integrate alternative medicine into their medical expertise. Started in 1996, “Botanical Medicine in Modern Clinical Practice” was the first course of its kind at an American university, and it ran for 10 years. Andrew Weil, MD, co-directed the course with Dr. Kronenberg. “At that time there was no other place where doctors could learn about the clinical use of medicinal plants,” said Dr. Kronenberg.

Dr. Kronenberg has also initiated other CME courses and is currently co-organizer and director with Dr. Weil of “Nutrition and Health: State of the Science and Clinical Applications,” which began in 2004 and is now in its 7th year.

In 2007, the Rosenthal Center closed its doors, and Dr. Kronenberg, after 14 years as its director, is now finding new ways to draw attention to the benefits of alternative medicine.1

Dr. Kronenberg currently works at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, where she is conducting hot flash research and working with colleagues to further expand Stanford’s program in integrative medicine. She is also a visiting scientist at the New York Botanical Garden, where she collaborates with another ABC Board of Trustees member, Michael J. Balick, PhD, on an ethnomedical study in New York City. “Urban Ethnobotany for Women’s Health” examines the medicinal plants used by several ethnic communities in NYC, particularly the Dominican community that surrounds Columbia University Medical Center. They have worked together on this project for more than 10 years.

“Fredi has been a great friend and joy to work with over the two decades I have known her,” said Dr. Balick (e-mail, December 16, 2009). “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.”

Dr. Kronenberg has recently published her first book on botanical medicine. This book is intended to serve as a guide for those who wish to conduct high quality botanical research: Botanical Medicine: From Bench to Bedside (Mary Ann Liebert Inc., 2009), co-edited with Ray Cooper, PhD.

“Her leadership in the field is well recognized by her peers, but she has not made herself a ‘celebrity,’” said Dr. Kronenberg’s friend Mary Ann Liebert of Mary Ann Liebert Inc. Publishing (e-mail, December 1, 2009). “Fredi’s ambitions are for the field as opposed to promoting herself. It is her enormous breadth of knowledge that has earned her high respect from her colleagues, and—I would say—the absence of ego!”

Her colleagues have praised her engaging personality, as well as her academic mind. “Fredi is not only impressively bright but has a warm and optimistic manner that makes you want to work with her,” said Liebert. “You couple this with her depth of knowledge and determination to advance the field, and she is unusually effective.”

“Fredi is one of the most positive people I know,” said Gerry Bodeker, EdD, senior lecturer at Oxford University and past member of the scientific Advisory Board of the Rosenthal Center (e-mail, December 4, 2009). “She always sees the potential for good in a situation, and I can’t recall her criticizing colleagues even under the most difficult of circumstances—rare in academia.”

In her personal time, Dr. Kronenberg dabbles in photography. She also has a great appreciation for music. “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,” said Dr. Kronenberg, adding that she likes jazz, classical, blue grass, and “anything by ethnobotanist, author, and songwriter James Duke.” She’s even participated in a jam session with Dr. Duke in the wilds of South Africa.

“We are most grateful to have Fredi on our Board of Trustees,” said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. “Fredi’s strong commitment to the growth of responsible, clinically tested herbal medicine as well as herbal education for health professionals is well documented; she’s a perfect fit for ABC’s nonprofit educational mission and has served ABC well for over a decade.”

—Kelly E. Lindner


1. Saxton KE. Hinda Gould Rosenthal: 1921–2006. HerbalEGram. December 2007;4(12). Available at: Rosenthal_Tribute.htm. Accessed December 1, 2009.