Black Cohosh: Popular Ingredient For Many Herbal Remedies

Written by - Reviewed by Consumer Health Digest Team

Published: Oct 10, 2013 | Last Updated: Mar 4, 2019

What Is Black Cohosh?

Originally used by native American Indians, black cohosh has been widely used in many parts of the world for various ailments. These include menopause symptoms, menstrual-related ailments (e.g. period pains and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)), osteoporosis, acne and inducing labor during pregnancy. This herb has become widely accepted as an effective alternative treatment for menopausal women who want to avoid medicinal-type treatments. Although popularly known as an herb for female ailments, black cohosh was traditionally used to treat other conditions as well like coughs, anxiety, fever, as an insect repellant, and many others. It should be noted that the herb is not used for these purposes anymore as its effect has not been tested. The herb is used primarily for menstrual and menopause-related symptoms only.

How Does Black Cohosh Work?

Black Cohosh

The exact way that black cohosh works in the body is not known. A number of research studies have been done to determine this, but the results have either been inconclusive or contradictory. Therefore the recommendations made by these research studies are assumptions at best of how this herb works.

The medicinal part of the black cohosh plant is the root. This root is believed to have several properties that work on different parts of the body. It is believed that black cohosh has a compound similar to the serotonin in the brain, and this helps the body to better transmit messages to all parts of the body. It is also believed that black cohosh has estrogen-like properties which either decrease or increase the amount of estrogen in a woman’s body (conflicting results from different research studies).

How Is It Promoted For Use?

Black cohosh is promoted by alternative health practitioners and websites. Also, doctors have found that some women respond better to alternative treatments, and may sometimes promote the use of black cohosh. This herb is also promoted by word of mouth when women who have used it successfully share their stories with acquaintances.

What Does It Involve?

In the 1990s the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat menopause symptoms was the order of the day. However, in the early 2000s two studies raised an alarm on the role of HRT in the development of several conditions, including breast cancer, thromboembolic disease and cardiovascular disease. These studies, the Million Women Study and the Women’s Health Initiative, also asserted that HRT did not have any long-term effect on some menopausal symptoms. As a result, many women turned to alternative treatment, of which black cohosh was a strong contender. And most of them have experienced varying degrees of relief from menopause symptoms with black cohosh.

What Is The History Behind It?

Black cohosh is a native American herb which they used for centuries to treat menstrual pain and pain during child birth. They also used it for a variety of other ailments which are listed above. This herb was introduced to settler Europeans, who used it widely for menopausal symptoms. It is now still popularly used for menopause symptoms, with up to 2 million women all over the world using black cohosh.

What Is The Evidence?

A number of research studies have researched the effect of black cohosh on menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes. One of these studies indicates that black cohosh has a compound called fukinolic acid which has estrogen-like properties. It is believed that this compound helps the body by acting like estrogen and alleviating symptoms. Other research studies have given conflicting results on the effect of black cohosh on hot flashes. There has not been sufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of black cohosh on other ailments that were traditionally treated with black cohosh, for example anxiety, premenstrual syndrome, acne and menstrual pain.

Why Do People Take Black Cohosh?

The main reason why people take black cohosh is to try and alleviate some of the more common menopausal symptoms. A large number of women have experienced symptomatic relief after taking black cohosh for at least one month.

How Much Black Cohosh Should You Take?

In order to see an improvement in menopausal symptoms, a woman should take between 20 to 40 milligrams twice day. Some medical practitioners recommend that black cohosh should not be taken continuously for more than 6 months.

Who Should Not Take Black Cohosh?

Women who are pregnant should not take black cohosh as it can induce labor. It is not yet understood how black cohosh affects breast tissue, therefore this herb should be avoided by women with breast cancer. Some studies have indicated that black cohosh may affect the liver, therefore people with any disorders of the liver should not take black cohosh. It is also recommended that those with aspirin allergies should also avoid black cohosh as they may have an allergic reaction to this herb.

Black Cohosh Effect On Menopausal Symptoms

Black cohosh has different effects on menopausal symptoms for different women. For most women, however, there are significant improvements in menopausal symptoms, especially hot flashes. The effects of black cohosh on menopausal symptoms can only be observed after taking the herb for at least one month.

Side Effects And Safety Concerns Of Black Cohosh

A woman taking black cohosh for menopausal symptoms may experience a few side effects, including nausea, indigestion, perspiration, low blood pressure, and gaining weight. It has not been established if this herb is safe to use during pregnancy or when a woman is breastfeeding. This also means the herb may not be safe for children to use. Although black cohosh is sometimes used to induce labor, a pregnant woman should not use it unless instructed and monitored by a medical practitioner as it could lead to a miscarriage. If a person overdoses on black cohosh, she is likely to suffer from seizures, slow heartbeat and visual disturbances.

There are three varieties of the cohosh plant – black, blue and white cohosh. The blue and white variations do not have any known medicinal properties, and may actually be harmful to the body. Furthermore, there have been cases where black cohosh products have not had black cohosh at all, but contained a Chinese variation of black cohosh. Hence, the purity and quality of black cohosh products has also been brought into question at times.

Is Black Cohosh Effective?

Black cohosh has been shown to be effective in treating menopause symptoms on several research studies. However, some women have not experienced any relief from this herb. It should be noted that different people respond differently to treatment. Even with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is the most common type of menopausal treatment, some women experience complete relief, while others have no change in their symptoms at all. This is the same with black cohosh, and a woman should try different alternatives to find what works best for her in relieving her menopause symptoms.

Health Benefits Of Black Cohosh

Black cohosh has been used by native American Indians for centuries to treat female-related ailments. They introduced this plant to the rest of the world, and from the 1950s it was used widely to treat menopausal symptoms like vaginal dryness, hot flashes, heart palpitations, etc. A research study in 2001 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concluded that this herb was helpful in alleviating hot flashes over a short period of time (i.e. less than six months).

In most research studies on the health benefits of black cohosh, the results have been positive, indicating that black cohosh does help alleviate the intensity of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. However, some research studies have given conflicting results. This is as a result of the short duration of the studies as well as the lack of rigor in the design of the research.

Black Cohosh and Its Interaction With Medications

It is believed that black cohosh may interact with oral contraceptives or HRT. This is because these two medications have estrogen properties, which may be influenced by the black cohosh. No research studies have been done on this, however; therefore it is not possible to make a conclusive statement about the herb’s interaction with medications.

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