Black Cohosh and Menopause - As Effective as Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Black Cohosh, known scientifically as, Actaea Recemosa, is a North American herb that has been sold as a supplement for decades. It is believed to be effective in treating the side effects of menopause including night sweats, hot flashes and depression. Since it is marketed not as a drug but as a food, companies that sell Black Cohosh extracts are allowed to advertise its known health benefits. Although science has not indisputably confirmed or denied these claims, preliminary research provides extremely encouraging evidence of its efficacy and safety.
During the years that women menstruate, their bodies make high levels of hormones necessary for pregnancy and lactation. Upon menopause’s approach, the ovaries, which produce the majority of these hormones, cease to produce hormones anymore. Minute amounts of estrogen and other hormones such as progesterone continue to be made by the pituitary and endocrine glands, but the hormone level drop is severe enough that it can greatly disrupt the way a woman functions and feels. The body can undergo difficulties in controlling its temperature, a condition that manifests itself in the form of hot flashes and night sweats. Depression is also common at the onset of menopause, a problem that is likely due to the shortage of the hormone estrogen which is believed to have mood stabilizing effects.
Standard treatment for menopausal symptoms consist of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which supplies the body with hormones to restore the ones it has ceased producing. Some women prefer not to take these drugs because they have unpleasant side effects like fluid retention, headaches, and weight gain. Studies indicate that taking these medications also increases a woman’s chances of developing life threatening illnesses such as heart disease, breast cancer, and blood clots. Fearful that the dangers of this treatment outweigh the benefits, many menopausal women are seeking out more natural, safer yet extremely effective sources of relief. On of the most effective and stable of the alternative medicines is Black Cohosh, which is reputed to combat menopausal troubles without severe negative results or drug interactions.
Black Cohosh contains biological components similar in structure to the human hormone estrogen. A large number of studies have suggested that these plant hormones connect themselves to the estrogen receptors in the body. It is believed that this activity decreases the amount of luteinizing hormone (LH) in women, which has been associated with menopausal temperature fluctuations. Continued research has not been able to duplicate these results, which leaves scientists questioning exactly why Black Cohosh seems to be so effective. In fact, the hormone levels of women taking Black Cohosh remain virtually unchanged in the majority of reports. Inexplicably, several studies have shown that the herb effectively decreases symptoms, often more successfully than hormone replacement therapy.
Because of the limited understanding of why Black Cohosh’s hormones help menopausal women, the prestigious National Institute of Health is financing a thorough study of the plant through its subsidiary the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). It is hoped that this research will provide solid information about the short and long-term efficacy as well as potential dangers of Black Cohosh supplementation. Others are concerned about Black Cohosh’s potential of accelerating the spread of breast cancer cells, a fear founded on the results of a test done on lab mice. As of yet, people using the herb have only reported minor problems such as headaches, stomach discomfort, and dizziness at higher doses.
Short term use of Black Cohosh, specifically for periods no greater than six months, was endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2001. This is because limited use of the herb diminishes symptoms of menopause without any apparent danger. They recommended a Black Cohosh extract. Each pill contains small amounts of the herb’s believed active ingredient, terpene glycosides. The common dosage is between one and two pills twice daily.
Besides the above mentioned potential benefits, Black Cohosh may also remedy other problems related to menopause. Among them is osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones that frequently affects post-menstrual women.
When combined with Calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K, Black Cohosh seems exploit its maximum benefit with menopause and osteoporosis.
Some scientists believe that the phytoestrogens (plant-derived hormones similar to estrogen) may even hinder the growth and spread of breast cancer cells, another common illness occurring after the onset of menopause. This idea stands in conflict with other studies, indicating that more research is necessary before definite conclusions can be drawn. Until then, it is generally advised women who are at high risk of developing the disease should not take the herb.
Women who suffer from the onset of menopausal symptoms can find at least temporary relief from use of the herb. In time, ongoing studies will reveal all the capabilities of this traditional plant, which in turn may lead to FDA approval of its administration. Until then, it is a reliable short-term alternative supported by many of the nation’s top medical experts.
Currently the supplement is highly affordable since it is available without a prescription. The cost of a one month supply of the product ranges from $16 to $60 depending upon the dosage. Consumers should look for a product that contains 50 mg of high quality Black Cohosh Root Extract, and a full day's supply of Calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K to help maximize its benefits with osteoporosis.
A plant found in the forest of America that often goes by the popular name of Black Cohosh but is also known as Black Snake Root, Rattle Weed and Squaw Root. A widely popular drug in Germany, early native American women used the root for many medicinal purposes. There have been no documented toxic side effects and it is considered one of the few herbal options available for the treatment of hot flashes.
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