Newsflash: black cohosh – one of these is not like the other

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in herbal medicine, hot flash, menopause | 2 comments

Love the first line of this editorial:

“Black cohosh preparations are not all the same.”

That is,

“Vigilance must be exercised when interpreting data.”

In other words, sometimes it appears that black cohosh is a significant and real alternative to hormones for battling hot flashes and even some other menopausal symptoms. And other times, it appears that it’s not. The reason? Product variability and dosage.

A bit of geek: you may recall that black cohosh is an herb from the buttercup family. Its scientific name is Cimicifuga racemosa. But, there are many different types (or species) of Cimicifuga and researchers say that when the continents split, these plants took different directions and ended up with distinct chemical compositions. Moreover, when they analyzed the products for certain active components, they found significant variability.

Add this to the fact that researchers studying black cohosh have used dosages ranging from 2.8 mg to 160 mg, and that these formulations were pure or were what they call “multibotanicals” (i.e. containing other herbs believed to be effective to qualm flashes and mood swings) and well, you have a veritable melting pot of clinical crap that defies logic. Add in a dash of more scientific geekdom know as a bell shaped response, in which low doses of a drug may be ineffective, moderate doses are effective and at higher doses, benefits disappear again, and well, it’s almost impossible to draw any firm conclusions.

Wow. Pretty scary, right?

The Menopause Industrial Complex will have you believe that the only effective preparations for ‘treating’ the disease they call menopause are pharmacological preparations manufactured by a large company and that has undergone rigorous, controlled scientific analysis. A lot of Western practitioners will have you believe that not only have herbs not be rigorously tested and studied under the same scientific conditions, but that they are downright ineffective and sometimes downright dangerous.

Guess what?

Both camps are incorrect. Because when you peruse the archives of the National Library of Medicine or esteemed journals like Maturitas or Menopause, you will find scientifically controlled evaluations of herbs. And, when researchers take the time to tease out data rather than drawing automatic conclusions (as the authors did in the piece I am referring to, which was published online in Maturitas at the end of December), they find that perhaps, the herbs are more effective than believed and that there are reasons for disparate results.

So, black cohosh, yay or nay?

Let’s get back to the original thought:

Black cohosh preparations are not all the same.

For me, a standardized extract that has undergone rigorous clinical study – Remifemin – works wonders. And I hear that it does for a lot of women. But not all women are the same either.

Two words.

Be vigilant.

Five more:

Don’t believe everything you read.

Happy New Year. Let’s approach this year as the year for opening our eyes and taking back our aging process.

Menopause? It’s not a disease and symptoms can be effectively and safely ameliorated with certain herbs. Just. Be. Vigilant.



  1. 1-9-2012

    From an article about black cohosh by Women to Women:

    “When women rank their menopausal symptoms using two different assessment measures known as the Kupperman Index and the Menopause Rating Scale, black cohosh has more consistently delivered better results than many conventional therapies such as hormonal drugs and antidepressants in assuaging hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal atrophy, depression, anxiety and other menopausal symptoms — without increasing their risk of uterine or breast cancer.”

    Works for me!

    • 1-10-2012

      Nan, I have been taking standardized black cohosh for years now and am a big fan. But I’m using it in conjunction with other herbs so I’m not sure of its value on its own, at least not for me. But I appreciate you sharing the article with my readers. Cheers!


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