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Black Cohosh

Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa ([Latin]), also known as black snakeroot, bugbane, cimicifuga, and squawroot, is an herb that has been proven effective for relief of menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, mood disturbances, palpitations, and vaginal dryness.

Black cohosh is a popular alternative to estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) in menopausal women. Because it is a phytoestrogen (estrogen found in plants), black cohosh is thought to work by helping to offset the declining amounts of estrogen in the body during menopause. Health officials in both Britain and Germany have recognized this herb for its ability to mimic estrogen in the body. Unlike some synthetic hormone-replacement medications, black cohosh is not known to the risk of breast cancer or other hormone-related cancers.

Black cohosh helps to relieve other hormone-related symptoms that cause discomfort to both menopausal and premenstrual women, including depression, headache, and cramping. The root of this plant can also fight excess water retention by acting as a diuretic, and help inhibit the growth of painful fibroids in the breast and uterus by reducing the amount of estrogen available to these sites. Black cohosh may prove to be an effective treatment for male infertility in men—one of its components, ferulic acid, protects sperm cells from oxidative damage.

Recent preliminary research indicates that black cohosh may act as an anti-inflammatory, particularly in the joints. This supports the traditional use of black cohosh to treat arthritis.

If you’d like to try black cohosh for relief of menopausal or premenstrual symptoms, it is available in capsules, tablets, and tinctures. One of the most popular formulations for treatment of menopause is Remifemin, available over-the-counter as an extract or in capsules. The usual dosage for Remifemin is two 40-milligram capsules once a day, or 40 drops of extract twice a day.

Women who are pregnant should also avoid this herb, because it may relax the uterine wall and cause a miscarriage—some midwives actually use black cohosh to stimulate labor. Because this herb mimics hormonal activity, it should not be used in girls who have not reached puberty.

Some women taking black cohosh may experience mild stomach upset, especially if they take it on an empty stomach. Other potential side effects include increased sun-sensitivity and allergic reaction, especially in those allergic to aspirin (black cohosh naturally contains salicylic acid, a substance that is found in aspirin).

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