That Old Black Magic

Posted by on Aug 17, 2008 in herbal medicine, hot flash, nightsweats | 0 comments


Remember black cohosh? That wonderful herb in the buttercup family of plants that is commonly used  to address hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats and other vasomotor symptoms? Black cohosh has been used in traditional folk medicine for centuries and was introduced to the settlers by Native American Indians, who incorporated the herb into their traditional medicines for women’s ailments.

I’ve discussed the utility of black cohosh for sleep and other disturbances in a previous post.

Personally, I’ve been using a standardized black cohosh formulation in combination with some Chinese herbs, (as recommended by acupuncturist and Chinese medicine specialist Elaine Stern)  with great success for many months now. Hence, I am a huge fan. And in my book it is that ‘old black magic.” Still, I believe that it’s important to address warnings that link black cohosh to liver damage. Here’s what you need to know:

Based on recent statements that have been recently issued in Australia and the United Kingdom, The U.S. Pharmacopeia’s Council of Experts extensively analyzed data from 30 case reports, side effects reports and other sources to evaluate the association between black cohosh and liver damage.  They concluded that there was enough evidence from case reports to suggest a possible link and proposed that a cautionary statement be included on manufacturer labeling.

So, what’s the bottom line? Overall, there are been few reports of liver damage but they have provoked enough concern to raise a red flag amongst several regulatory agencies worldwide. Here, the U.S, the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements says that millions of people have safely used black cohosh without any apparent negative health effects.

As always, if you choose to go the herbal route, speak to an health professional who is well-versed in herbal medicine first. Try to select standardized formulation (it usually says it right on the label), which can help to insure that optimal and safe manufacturing processes have been followed and that you’re getting a pure form of the herb. Finally, be aware of potential side effects. In addition to liver damage, black cohosh has been linked with headache, dizziness, visual disturbance, constipation and intestinal discomfort, mostly at higher than recommended doses. Finally, remember that herbal medicine is medicine, and like Western preparations, requires vigilence, common sense, and can result in adverse effects if not used correctly.

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