Radithor was a patent medicine that is a well-known example of radioactive quackery and specifically of excessively broad and pseudoscientific application of the principle of radiation hormesis. It consisted of triple distilled water containing at a minimum 1 microcurie (37 kBq) each of the radium 226 and 228 isotopes.
The time of Radithor and radioactive elixirs ended in 1932, with the premature death of one of its most fervent users, Eben Byers, an American industrialist. This history has led to the strengthening of regulatory control of pharmaceutical and radioactive products.
Radithor was manufactured from 1918 to 1928 by the Bailey Radium Laboratories, Inc., of East Orange, New Jersey. The owner of the company and head of the laboratories was listed as William J. A. Bailey, a dropout from Harvard College, who was not a medical doctor. It was advertised as "A Cure for the Living Dead" as well as "Perpetual Sunshine". The expensive product was claimed to cure impotence, among other ills.
Eben Byers, a wealthy American socialite, athlete, industrialist and Yale College graduate, died from Radithor radium poisoning in 1932. Byers was buried in a lead-lined coffin; when exhumed in 1965 for study, his remains were still highly radioactive and measured at 225,000 becquerels. As a comparison, the roughly 0.0169 g of potassium-40 present in a typical human body produces approximately 4,400 becquerels.
Byers's death led to the strengthening of the Food and Drug Administration's powers and the demise of most radiation-based patent medicines. A Wall Street Journal article (1 Aug. 1990) describing the Byers incident was titled "The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off".
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- "Death Stirs Action on Radium 'Cures'. Trade Commission Speeds Its Inquiry. Health Department Checks Drug Wholesalers. Autopsy Shows Symptoms. Maker of "Radithor" Denies It Killed Byers, as Does Victim's Physician in Pittsburgh. Walker Uses Apparatus. Friends Alarmed to Find Mayor Has Been Drinking Radium-Charged Water for Last Six Months". The New York Times. April 2, 1932. Retrieved 2011-10-01.
Federal and local agencies, as well as medical authorities in various parts of the country, were stirred to action yesterday as a result of the death of Eben M. Byers, wealthy Pittsburgh steel manufacturer and sportsman, who died here Wednesday at the Doctors' Hospital from causes attributed to radium poisoning resulting from the drinking of water containing radium in solution. ...
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