Black Cohosh: Benefits and Side Effects

Black Cohosh: Benefits and Side Effects

Black cohosh is a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It has several other common names, including black snakeroot, bugwort, rattleweed and others.

The botanical name for black cohosh is Cimicifuga racemosa or Actaea racemosa. North American Indians used black cohosh as a remedy for a variety of ailments, including depression, menstrual disorders, kidney problems, malaria, rheumatism and sore throats.

It was used in America in the 1800’s as a fever reducer, as a diuretic and to induce menstruation. It was also used to treat infertility, prevent miscarriage and relieve labor pains.

More recently, black cohosh has gained popularity as a treatment for symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, anxiety and depression.

Clinical studies, however, are conflicting: some demonstrate benefits, while others don’t.

As the authors of one recent review stated, different outcomes are due to: “…a lack of uniformity of the drug preparation used, variable outcome measures and lack of a placebo group.”

According to another review, however, “…a beneficial effect of black cohosh on peri-menopausal women cannot be excluded.”

In other words, the benefits of black cohosh are still unproven, but have not been disproven.

Animal and in-vitro experiments have also shown that black cohosh may have beneficial effects on bone, although more studies need to be performed. It may also be helpful for treating menstrual migraines.

Black cohosh supplements are derived from the roots and underground stems (called rhizomes) of the black cohosh plant. The herb contains several active compounds, including triterpene saponins.

The highest quality preparations are standardized for 23-Epi-26-deoxyactein (previously identified as “27-deoxyactein”). One such product, Remifemin, has been used in several positive studies.

Black Cohosh: Benefits and Side Effects

There are no known drug interactions with black cohosh, and side effects have rarely been reported. At very large doses, the herb may cause gastrointestinal complaints (nausea and vomiting), dizziness or headaches. Though black cohosh was once used to prevent miscarriage, pregnant women should not take it since modern studies have not been performed to determine its safety during gestation.

In addition, women with breast cancer may want to avoid using black cohosh until its effects on estrogen levels and breast tissue can be studied conclusively.

Author: elissa

Elissa is a former research associate with the University of California at Davis, and the author/co-author of over a dozen articles published in scientific journals. Currently a freelance writer and researcher, Elissa brings her multidisciplinary education and training to her writing on nutrition and supplements.

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