Mother Earth Living

Menopause and Black Cohosh

A woman's herb comes of age.
By Christopher Hobbs, L.A.C.
March/April 1998
Add to My MSN


Content Tools

Related Content

Building Blackbird Studio, My Own Tiny Home

Guest blogger Elizabeth Richardson shares her plans for Blackbird Studio, a 333-square-foot she plan...

Every Herb Has a Story: Black Cohosh

Black Cohosh, one of the early Native Americans' favorite medicinal plants, contains many benefits t...

Herbs for Natural Menopause Relief

Changing hormone levels during menopause bring a number of less-than-desirable side effects. Treat h...

Love Your Basil: Spicy Globe Basil

The spicy flavor of 'Spicy Globe' basil adds a unique taste to many sauces and fresh fruit desserts....

Many women are plagued by menstrual cramps, premenstrual syndrome, or hot flashes at some point during their lifetimes. Now they can take a tip from European women, who are increasingly turning to one herb more than any other for relief from these discomforts. Known as black cohosh, the herb has been used by more than one-and-a-half million German women, according to one manufacturer of a black cohosh supplement. And the German Commission E, a government-sponsored panel that evaluates herbal therapies, has given black cohosh its stamp of approval, recommending it for treating PMS, painful menstruation, and menopausal problems.

Some predict that black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) will soon become as popular in the United States as it is in Europe. That would bring history full circle, ­because black cohosh was known in North America long before Europeans dis­covered it.

• Recipe for Menopause Tincture.

Taking A Cue From Native Americans

At the turn of the century, U.S. medical doctors were of three general persuasions: They prescribed drugs, homeopathic remedies, or herbs. Allopaths used substances such as mercury; homeopaths preferred preparations made with highly diluted herbs and minerals.

The herbally oriented doctors were called the Eclectics, who learned about herbs through interactions with their patients. They observed reactions, both good and bad, of botanical medicines that had been used by Native Americans, including black cohosh, echinacea, wild indigo, osha, cramp bark, snakeroot, lobelia, and pokeroot. The Eclectics, taking their cue from Native Americans, prescribed black cohosh to treat “female complaints”, including menstrual problems, hormonal imbalances, fibroid cysts, and false and true labor pains. They also recommended the herb to calm the nervous system, reduce pain after labor, or relieve painful, late menstrual periods. They combined it with cramp bark to ease menstrual cramps, and used it alone to treat neuralgia, rheumatism, arthritis, and headaches.

After the 1930s, pharmaceuticals replaced herbal remedies as the treatment of choice in the United States, but the experience of the Eclectic physicians wasn’t lost. Their knowledge of many Native American herbs made its way to Europe, where German researchers, aware of the clinical effectiveness of some of these remedies, began looking for marketable drugs among them.

Today, black cohosh remains on a European short list of proven remedies for “women’s conditions”. Thanks to the body of evidence that has accumulated during the past century, we now understand much more about the symptoms and syndromes for which black cohosh is proving beneficial and safe. This includes knowledge about its proper dose, the length of time it should be used, and other therapeutic aspects.

Defining its Effectiveness

In the classic reference book Herbal Medicine (Beaconsfield, 1988), Dr. Rudolph Weiss lists black cohosh as a treatment for conditions caused by lack of estrogen, such as depression associated with menopause. Clinical experience of European practitioners backs this up. Scientific studies show that black cohosh has a balancing effect on hormone production, either by acting as a mild estrogen or regulating estrogen’s production in the body. For that reason, black cohosh is often found in herbal formulas for regulating female hormones, especially those prescribed to reduce hot flashes, which can occur when estrogen levels drop too low. Commercial preparations of the herb, available in the United States, are commonly prescribed in Europe and sold in drugstores to reduce hot flashes.

Researchers have conducted many test-tube and animal studies using black cohosh as well as a few human trials. In one controlled double-blind study, 110 meno­pausal women who complained of unpleasant symptoms and who hadn’t taken estrogen replacement therapy for at least six months took a standardized black cohosh extract. According to the researchers, these women felt less depressed and had fewer hot flashes than those in the placebo group. The researchers theorize that black cohosh extract affects estrogen behavior by changing vaginal cells and suppressing the secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH), both indicators of an estrogenic influence. Sudden bursts of LH have been linked to the occurrence of hot flashes, night sweats, heart palpitations, headaches, and the drying and thinning of the vagina.

At the University of Göttingen’s Department of Clinical and Experimental Endocrinology in Germany, researchers report that black cohosh’s impact on sexual hormones can be traced primarily to three compounds (formononetin, triterpenes, and aceteine). The German BGA (the German equivalent of the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA) considers black cohosh to be safe because so few side effects have been reported. The Botanical Safety Handbook (CRC Press, 1997) states that black cohosh shouldn’t be used during pregnancy.

Promising Future

Although all of the science defining how black cohosh works isn’t in, modern herbalists in North America use the herb in many of the ways their forebears did, and European physicians recommend it for a variety of gynecological complaints. While still unapproved for use as a drug in the United States, black cohosh appears quite promising as an alternative to conventional hormonal replacement therapy, or HRT, without the serious risk of side effects. 8

Christopher Hobbs, an Herbs for Health Editorial Advisory Board member, is the author of many books, including Vitex, the Women’s Herb (Botanica, 1996). He is a fourth-generation herbalist and botanist with more than thirty years’ experience with medicinal herbs.

Additional Reading

Blumenthal, M., et al. Commission E Herbal Monographs. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council, work in progress.
Bruneton, J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. New York: Lavoisier, 1995.
Duker, E. M., et al. “Effects of extracts from Cimicifuga racemosa on gonadotropin release in menopausal women and ovariectomized rats.” Planta Medica 1991, 57(5):420–24.
Felter, H. W., and J. U. Lloyd. King’s American Dispensatory. Cincinnati: The Ohio Valley Co., 1876.
Foster, S., and J. Duke. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants: Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
Lehmann-Willenbrock, E., and H. Riedel. “Clinical and endocrinological studies of the treatments of ovarian insufficiency manifestations following hysterectomy with intact adnexa.” Aentralblatt fur Gynakologie 1988, 110(10):611–18.
List, P. H., and L. Horhammer. Hagers Handbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis. 7 vols. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1973–1979.
Newall, C. A., et al. “Herbal Medicines” in A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.
Weiss, R. Herbal Medicine. Beaconsfield, England: Beaconsfield, 1988.


Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | Next






Post a comment below.

 


MY COMMUNITY
no image
valerykenery
8/29/2014 12:04:10 AM
no image
HarvestRight
8/21/2014 5:22:39 PM
no image
NatureHillsNursery
8/20/2014 10:03:07 AM
no image
NatureHillsNursery
8/20/2014 9:59:22 AM
no image
NatureHillsNursery
8/20/2014 9:30:07 AM
no image
melisastarr
8/19/2014 12:57:22 PM
no image
Peggy McMahan
8/18/2014 11:29:51 AM






Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.