This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics Inorganic Substances", by Charles D. F. Phillips. Also available from Amazon: Materia medica and therapeutics.
Astringent preparations will usually lessen the secretions, especially those of the gastro-intestinal tract. Upon the kidney, in health, the effect as to quantity of secretion is not much, but some irritation of the bladder and the urinary tract may lead to increased frequency of micturition. In some persons, however, and in some diseases, iron preparations, especially the tincture of the chloride, the citrate, and the tartrate, have proved good diuretics, directly or indirectly: the tincture, in fact, is termed by Simpson a "renal purgative" when recommending it in "surgical fever" (Medical Times, i., 1859, p. 517). The secretion of milk has diminished or ceased in cows drinking a ferruginous water, and in some suckling women taking a course of iron (Martin); Bistrow records a similar result in a goat under the use of lactate of iron: on the other hand, there is clinical evidence that non-astringent preparations taken by anae-mic women during lactation will improve the secretion as well as the general health (Routh: Medical Times, i., 1859). The effect is clearly that of a restorative, and as we find so often in the use of iron, it will vary with the preparation and the patient taking it.
From an early period iron has had the repute of specially stimulating this system. A classical cure of impotence by iron-rust among the Argonauts is commonly quoted, and we may rescue from oblivion the curious marriage-contract said to be common at one time among the burghers of Frankfort, to the effect that their wives should not visit the iron springs of Schwalbach more than twice in their lives, for fear of being too fruitful (Dr. Jacques, These, Paris, 1843). There is clinical evidence of its value in sexual debility, and in derangement or suppression of the ovarian function, but it seems more explicable by a general tonic and haematinic power than by a special local action, though Trousseau attributes to iron aphrodisiac power. The tincture of the chloride is in somewhat common use as a supposed abortifacient. Taylor regards it as a dangerous drug for pregnant women, but his examples scarcely corroborate this, and the clinical evidence and experience as to medicinal doses mentioned later on (v. p. 173) tend to an opposite conclusion. We may recognize, however, that very large doses of astringent preparations are not safe - they may injure by general irritation or local congestion, as shown in some cases reported in Medical Times, ii., 1860, p. 84.
Manganese, and most tonics and acids: as astringent, ergot, turpentine, etc.
Weakening and fluidifying agents such as alkalies and mercurials: the former are also, together with sulphur and tannin, chemically incompatible with most iron preparations. Gubler mentions nicotine as antagonistic.
In this instance I find it undesirable to separate the external from the internal application of the remedy, for they are very closely connected, and if one set of observers prefer the one in any particular form of disease, parallel observations will be found in favor of the other; thus it is as regards hemorrhage, diphtheria, erysipelas, and even varix.
Iron in the metallic form was in early use as an astringent and robo-rant, though we note the absence of any mention of it in Hippocrates. In extraordinary demand at the early part of the last century, as a secret remedy, and under the name of "Elixir d'Or," "Gouttes d'Or," "Tein-ture de Bestuchef," etc., the perchloride solution with ether was priced at a golden louis per 1/2 oz., procured pensions and promotions for its makers, and served as a present for sovereigns; but when its last patentee revealed the secret, "for fear his death should lose it to the world," and when Catherine of Russia purchased the precious recipe for many thousand rubles, and presenting it to the St. Petersburg College of Medicine allowed it to be published (1780), this remedy which had been held to cure "gout and epilepsy, cramps and paralysis, rheumatism and hypochondriasis," sank into an obscurity as little deserved as was its previous reputation. Bayle, whose treatise is an excellent epitome of the therapeutical knowledge of his time, mentions only the metal and the carbonate as remedies in neuralgia and chlorosis (Biblio. de Therap., iv., 1837), and the use of soluble ferric compounds - a use so frequent and so valuable in modern practice that we may wonder how our predecessors fared without it - dates really from about 1850.