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Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa [L.] Nutt.)

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Also listed as: Cimicifuga racemosa, Actaea racemosaL.
Related terms
Background
Evidencetable
Tradition
Dosing
Safety
Interactions
Attribution
Bibliography

Related Terms
  • Actaea macrotys,Actaeapachypoda, Actaeapodocarpa, Actaea racemosa L., Actaearubra actaealactone, actee a grappes (French), amerikanisches Wanzenkraut (German), Appalachian bugbane, BCE, baneberry, black bugbane, black cohosh root extract Cr 99, black cohosh roots, black snakeroot, botrophis serpentaria, bugbane, bugwort, CR, CR BNO 1055, CR extract, caffeic acid, Cimicifuga, Cimicifuga racemosa, Cimicifugae racemosae rhizoma, Cimicifugawurzelstock (German), cimicifugic acid A, cimicifugic acid B, cimicifugic acid D, cimicifugic acid E, cimicifugic acid F, cimicifugic acid G, cohosh bugbane, ferulic acid, fukinolic acid, herbe au punaise (French), ICR, isoferulic acid, isopropanolic black cohosh extract, isopropanolic extract, macrotys, Macrotys actaeoides, methyl caffeate, mountain bugbane, p-coumaric acid, phytoestrogen, protocatechualdehyde, protocatechuic acid, Ranunculaceae (family), rattle root, rattle snakeroot, rattlesnake root, rattle top, rattle weed, rattleweed, Remifemin®, rhizoma actaeae, rich weed, richweed, schwarze Schlangenwurzel (German), snakeroot, solvlys, squaw root, squawroot, Thalictrodes racemosa, Traubensilberkerze (German), triterpene glycosides, Wanzenkraut (German), Ze 450.
  • Note: Do not confuse black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) with blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), which contains chemicals that may damage the heart and raise blood pressure. Do not confuse black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) with Cimicifuga foetida, bugbane, fairy candles, or sheng ma; these are species from the same family (Ranunculaceae) with different effects.

Background
  • Black cohosh is popular as an alternative to hormonal therapy in the treatment of menopausal (climacteric) symptoms such as hot flashes, mood disturbances, diaphoresis, palpitations, and vaginal dryness. Several studies have reported black cohosh to improve menopausal symptoms for up to six months, although the current evidence is mixed.
  • The mechanism of action of black cohosh remains unclear and the effects on estrogen receptors or hormonal levels (if any) are not definitively known. Recent publications suggest that there may be no direct effects on estrogen receptors, although this is an area of active controversy. Safety and efficacy beyond six months have not been proven, although recent reports suggest safety of short-term use, including in women experiencing menopausal symptoms for whom estrogen replacement therapy is contraindicated. Nonetheless, caution is advisable until better-quality safety data are available. Use of black cohosh in high-risk populations (such as in women with a history of breast cancer) should be under the supervision of a licensed healthcare professional.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *


There is not enough human research to make a clear recommendation regarding the use of black cohosh for painful joints in rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

C


There is not enough human research to make a clear recommendation regarding the use of black cohosh for breast cancer.

C


There is not enough scientific evidence to make a clear recommendation regarding the use of black cohosh for infertility.

C


Black cohosh is a popular alternative to prescription hormonal therapy for the treatment of menopausal symptoms such as migraine headaches, sleep disturbances, hot flashes, mood problems, perspiration, heart palpitations, and vaginal dryness. Initial human research suggests that black cohosh may improve some of these symptoms for up to six months. However, the current evidence is mixed and more studies are needed to make a strong recommendation.

C


Approximately 30% of women afflicted with migraines have menstrual-related migraines. Black cohosh may be a potential treatment for these migraines, although additional study of black cohosh alone is needed to make a strong recommendation.

C
* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)


Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Abortifacient (induces abortion), AIDS, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, anxiety, aphrodisiac (increases sexual desire), appetite stimulant, asthma, back pain, bone diseases, breast pain/inflammation (mastitis), breast cysts, bronchitis, cancer, cervical dysplasia (abnormal pap smear), chemotherapy induced premature menopause, child birth (labor induction), chorea, cough remedy, decreased blood platelets, depression, diarrhea, dizziness, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), edema (swelling), emmenagogue (promotes menstruation), endometriosis, estrogenic agent, fever, gall bladder disorders, gingivitis, headache, heart disease/palpitations, high blood pressure, inflammation, insect repellent, itchiness, joint pain, kidney inflammation, leukorrhea (abnormal vaginal discharge), liver disease, malaria, measles, menstrual period problems, miscarriage, muscle pain, muscle spasms, nerve pain, ovarian cysts, pain, pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas), perspiration, pertussis (whooping cough), polycystic breast disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, perimenopausal symptoms, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), rash, rheumatism, ringing in the ears, sleep disorders, snakebites, sore throat, tamoxifen-related hot flashes, urinary disorders, urogenital atrophy (tissues of the vagina and bladder become thinner often resulting in pain and infection), uterine diseases and bleeding, wrinkle prevention, yellow fever.

Dosing

Adults (over 18 years old)

  • There is no proven effective dose for black cohosh. The British Herbal Compendium recommends 40-200 milligrams of dried rhizome daily in divided doses, although traditional doses have been as high as 1-2 grams three times daily. As a tincture/liquid, the British Herbal Compendium recommends 0.4 to 2 milliliters of a (1:10) 60% ethanol tincture daily. For menopausal symptoms, studies have used 20 milligram or 40 milligram Remifemin® tablets (containing 1 or 2 milligrams of 27-deoxyactein) twice daily or 40 drops of a liquid extract for up to 12 weeks. Some clinical studies have used 20 milligrams taken twice daily. Isopropanolic black cohosh has been taken at a dose of 40 milligrams per day for 12 weeks.

Children (under 18 years old)

  • There is not enough scientific information to recommend black cohosh in children.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid if allergic to black cohosh or other members of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup or crowfoot) family. In nature, black cohosh contains small amounts of salicylic acid (which is found in aspirin), but it is not clear how much (if any) is present in commercially available products. Black cohosh should be used cautiously in people allergic to aspirin or to other salicylates.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Black cohosh is generally well tolerated in recommended doses and has been studied for up to six months. High doses of black cohosh may cause frontal headache, dizziness, perspiration, or visual disturbances. Several side effects have been noted in studies including constipation, intestinal discomfort, loss of bone mass (leading to osteoporosis), irregular or slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, muscle damage, nausea, and vomiting. Dysphoria and "heaviness in the legs" may occur.
  • It is not clear if black cohosh is safe in individuals with hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, or endometriosis. There is controversy as to whether black cohosh is similar to estrogen in its mechanism, although recent studies suggest that it may not be. The influence of black cohosh on anti-estrogen drugs (like tamoxifen) or hormone replacement therapy is not clear. It is not known if black cohosh possesses the beneficial effects that estrogen is believed to have on bone mass or the potential harmful effects such as increased risk of stroke or hormone-sensitive cancers.
  • A few gynecologic organ-related adverse events have been reported including vaginal bleeding and miscarriage; however, the effects of black cohosh in these events are unclear.
  • Hepatitis (liver damage) and liver failure has been reported with the use of black cohosh containing products. Liver transplantation has been required in some patients. These reports are concerning, although the cases have been criticized by some as not being adequately substantiated. Nonetheless, patients with liver disease should consult a licensed healthcare professional before using black cohosh.
  • Black cohosh should also be used cautiously in patients with a history of blood clots, seizure disorder, or high blood pressure.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding has not been established. Black cohosh may relax the muscular wall of the uterus and some nurse-midwives in the United States use black cohosh to stimulate labor. Black cohosh may also have hormonal effects and caution is advised during breastfeeding. There is one report of severe multi-organ damage in a child delivered with the aid of both black cohosh and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) who was not breathing at the time of birth. The child survived with permanent brain damage. However, blue cohosh is known to have effects on the heart and blood vessels and may have been responsible for these effects.
  • Tinctures may be ill-advised during pregnancy due to potentially high alcohol content.

Interactions

Interactions with Drugs

  • The potential estrogen-like effects of black cohosh remain debated and the active chemical contents of black cohosh have not been clearly identified. Although recent studies suggest no significant effects of black cohosh on estrogen receptors in the body, caution is warranted in people taking both black cohosh and estrogens due to unknown effects. The influence of black cohosh in combination with tamoxifen is not clear in studies and it is not known if tamoxifen counteracts the effects of black cohosh. Drugs like raloxifene may also interact.
  • Black cohosh may lower blood pressure and therefore should be used cautiously with other hypotensive agents such as beta-blockers like metoprolol (Lopressor®, Toprol®) or propranolol (Inderal®) and calcium-channel blockers like diltiazem (Cardizem®, Tiazac®) or verapamil (Isoptin®, Calan®). Black cohosh may contain small amounts of salicylic acid and may increase the anti-platelet effects of other agents such as aspirin.
  • Black cohosh may alter the way the liver breaks down or metabolizes certain drugs. In theory, due to possible alcohol content in some tinctures of black cohosh, combination with disulfiram (Antabuse®) or metronidazole (Flagyl®) may cause nausea and vomiting. Other studies show that black cohosh may cause liver toxicity and should be avoided with agents that may also cause liver toxicity.
  • Although not well studied in humans, black cohosh may potentially interact with antidepressants, and antihistamines. It may also interact with agents taken for the treatment of cancer and osteoporosis. Other potential interactions include pain relievers, anesthetics, anti-inflammatories, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and anti-seizure drugs.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Black cohosh should be used cautiously in people taking herbs with possible hormonal effects. This is a theoretical concern and it is not clear if the amounts of salicylates present in commercial or processed black cohosh products have significant effects in humans.
  • Seizures were reported in a woman taking a combination of black cohosh, chaste tree (berries and seeds), and evening primrose oil for four months who also consumed alcohol. The cause of her seizures is not clear.
  • Both black cohosh and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) are used by nurse-midwives in the United States to assist birth. There is one report of severe multi-organ damage in a child delivered with the aid of both black cohosh and blue cohosh who was not breathing at the time of birth. The child survived with permanent brain damage. However, blue cohosh is known to have effects on the heart and blood vessels and may have been responsible for these effects. Pennyroyal and black cohosh should not be used together, as there is a possibility of increased toxicity and death.
  • Black cohosh may lower blood pressure and therefore interact with other herbs or supplements that also affect blood pressure.
  • In theory, black cohosh may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, garlic, and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.
  • Black cohosh may alter the way the liver breaks down or metabolizes certain herbs and supplements. Other studies show that black cohosh may cause liver toxicity and should be avoided with other herbs that may also cause liver toxicity.
  • Although not well studied in humans, black cohosh may potentially interact with herbs and supplements with antidepressant, antihistamine, or antioxidant effects. It may also interact with herbs or supplements taken for the treatment of cancer and osteoporosis. Interactions with pain relievers, anesthetics, anti-inflammatories, cholesterol-lowering therapies, and St. John's wort are also possible.

Attribution
  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Bibliography
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  2. Borrelli F, Ernst E. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) for menopausal symptoms: a systematic review of its efficacy. Pharmacol Res 2008 Jul;58(1):8-14.
  3. Borrelli F, Ernst E. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa): a systematic review of adverse events. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2008 Nov;199(5):455-66.
  4. Burke BE, Olson RD, Cusack BJ. Randomized, controlled trial of phytoestrogen in the prophylactic treatment of menstrual migraine. Biomed Pharmacother 2002;Aug, 56(6):283-288.
  5. Chung DJ, Kim HY, Park KH, et al. Black cohosh and St. John's wort (GYNO-Plus) for climacteric symptoms. Yonsei Med J 2007 Apr 30;48(2):289-94.
  6. Chitturi S, Farrell GC. Hepatotoxic slimming aids and other herbal hepatotoxins. J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2008 Mar;23(3):366-73.
  7. Huntley A. The safety of black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa). Expert Opin Drug Saf 2004;Nov, 3(6):615-623.
  8. Kronenberg F, Fugh-Berman A. Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Menopausal Symptoms: A Review of Randomized, Controlled Trials. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2002;137(10):805-814.
  9. Levitsky J, Alli TA, Wisecarver J, et al. Fulminant liver failure associated with the use of black cohosh. Dig Dis Sci. 2005 Mar;50(3):538-9.
  10. Liske E, Hanggi W, Henneicke-von Zepelin HH, et al. Physiological investigation of a unique extract of black cohosh (Cimicifugae racemosae rhizoma): a 6-month clinical study demonstrates no systemic estrogenic effect. J Womens Health Gend Based Med 2002;11(2):163-174.
  11. Loprinzi CL, Barton DL, Sloan JA, et al. Mayo Clinic and North Central Cancer Treatment Group hot flash studies: a 20-year experience. Menopause 2008 Jul-Aug;15(4 Pt 1):655-60.
  12. Mills SY, Jacoby RK, Chacksfield M, et al. Effect of a proprietary herbal medicine on the relief of chronic arthritic pain: a double-blind study. Br J Rheumatol 1996;35(9):874-878.
  13. Rebbeck TR, Troxel AB, Norman S, et al. A retrospective case-control study of the use of hormone-related supplements and association with breast cancer. Int J Cancer 2007 Apr 1;120(7):1523-8.
  14. Rotem C, Kaplan B. Phyto-Female Complex for the relief of hot flushes, night sweats and quality of sleep: randomized, controlled, double-blind pilot study. Gynecol Endocrinol 2007 Feb;23(2):117-22.
  15. Walji R, Boon H, Guns E, et al. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa [L.] Nutt.): safety and efficacy for cancer patients. Support Care Cancer 2007 Aug;15(8):913-21.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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