Black Cohosh is a native North American plant and a member of the buttercup family (“Ranunculus”). The colorful flowers of the plant bloom in late spring and usually, but not always disappear as the hot months of summer come on. In more temperate climates, the plant continues to flower well into the fall. You may have also heard the black cohosh plant referred to by other names including: bugbane, bugwort, rattleroot, rattleweed, macrotys and black snakeroot.
The plant usually grows near water and the roots of the plant have been used by Native Americans for centuries. As Europeans found their way to North America, the ground-up roots of the plant have been used for everything from pain relief, to inducing labor in pregnant women, and even as a natural supplement to ease the side effects middle-aged women suffer during menopause.
There are a number of different constituents in the plant root that are thought to contribute to its hormone balancing, performance boosting, and inflammation reducing benefits including: caffeic and ferulic acids, phenolic acids, triterpene glycosides, flavonoids, volatile oils, and tannins.
Keep in mind that few studies have been performed to determine why the root is so effective at balancing hormones in the human body, so much of the benefits offered have no scientific data backing its effectiveness.
Keep reading to learn more about the potential benefits offered by this versatile plant root.
Important Note For Men Interested in Taking Black Cohosh
Black cohosh is a phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens increase and/or balance the female hormone estrogen in the body. For this reason, it’s not recommended that healthy men take it for any of the benefits listed on this page. Just a few of the very undesirable side effects men can experience when they up their estrogen levels include: erectile dysfunction, infertility and gynecomastia (breast growth).
Keep in mind that there have been a few studies that concluded black cohosh offers no estrogenic effect to the body whatsoever so take this, or any other advice related to this herb with a grain of salt. Benefits that have been tested and verified on males who take it can include relief from rheumatoid arthritis pain, and potential inhibition of human prostate cancer cells.
Should men take it?
Nobody really knows. It’s kind of like the debate most of you have likely heard over whether to consume soy products (another common phytoestrogen) or not. Some say yay and others nay. How you respond to increased levels of estrogen in your body will differ from how your neighbor does. If you’re suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, the benefits may outweigh the potential estrogen increase.
Black Cohosh Benefits
1.Natural Menopause Relief
The constituents in black cohosh bind to estrogen receptors in the body and have been shown to help relieve symptoms in menopausal women. Like many of the benefits found with black cohosh, the exact mechanism of action has not been identified.
Several women have reported that they prefer using black cohosh over the prescription hormone replacement therapy (HRT) suggested by their doctors. The most common symptom reduction reported is for hot flashes and cramps. Each case is different and not all women report relief of their symptoms.
The hormonal ups and downs that take place during PMS are well known by women (and men!) all over the world. The process leading up to an egg being dropped is trying for almost all women, since estrogen output increases steadily in the week leading up to ovulation, peaking until a woman has her period, before dropping suddenly in the days that follow. For most women, this entire process can last for around 20 days every month!
Black cohosh has been used for centuries for just this purpose. Though it isn’t known yet exactly why it works to balance hormone levels, ease pain and bloating, and promote the release of serotonin; it does all this and more, providing PMS relief for thousands worldwide. Most homeopathic doctors believe that black cohosh roots steeped in a tea work best for relief of these symptoms. The University of Maryland Medical Center has it listed as a “potential” PMS reliever on their site (here).
3.Natural Labor Inducer
Before synthetic medications for labor inducing came along, blue and black cohosh were used by natives and European settlers for years. Blue cohosh is supposed to make contractions stronger, where the black is supposed to increase the effectiveness of each contraction. Taking either individually will also help induce labor, but many naturalists claim the combination of both to be best.
*For this combo natural birth expert, Shiloah Baker recommends 10 – 15 tinctures of blue every hour and 5 – 10 tinctures of black every half hour.
Science definitely knows why black cohosh is so effective at reducing inflammation in the body. It’s believed that the caffeic and ferulic acids, combined with flavonoid antioxidants help to curb inflammation. Most of the data with regards to caffeic and ferulic acids, and their antiinflammatory properties have been on animals, so more testing needs to be completed to confirm.
You’ll see a lot of sources claiming black cohosh can help balance cholesterol levels in the body by lowering LDL and raising HDL, but there is no evidence that exists to corroborate these claims. In fact, a few university studies indicate that black cohosh has no effect on cholesterol or triglycerides whatsoever (source).
6.Blood Pressure Lowering
Black cohosh, as a proven antiinflammatory, can lower blood pressure in people suffering from the inflammation of the arteries which eventually leads to plaque buildup and eventual arteriosclerosis. The Mayo Clinic advises against taking the root if you’re taking blood pressure lowering meds.
Black cohosh eases the swelling which causes the pain and degradation of the joints that occurs in arthritis sufferers. Rheumatoid arthritis is a particularly aggressive form of the disease, since the immune system actually attacks the joint tissue, making the pain even more unbearable. When the swelling of the disease goes unchecked, there’s little hope for improvement and joint health and mobility quickly decline. Using black cohosh has helped suffers of RA for centuries – long before NSAIDs like aspirin were developed for pain and inflammation relief.
Like most of the other symptom relief benefits of black cohosh, anxiety reduction is achieved because of its hormone balancing benefits. While studies like this indicate no improvement in anxiety symptoms in women suffering from anxiety due to menopause, the fact remains that thousands of women worldwide claim black cohosh is more effective than hormone replacement therapy at quelling their anxiety and other hormone-related symptoms.
Estrogen swings in the body wreak havoc on women year round. From acne, to rashes, to dry skin; hormonal imbalances can lead to wrinkles, dry skin, and crow’s feet if not corrected. By keeping your estrogen levels in check, black cohosh may help to improve the feel and appearance of your skin. Improved skin appearance is one of the top 3 benefits you’ll find women talking about when black cohosh is discussed.
10.Sore Throat Relief
Another common use for black cohosh is to relieve sore throats. Natives have used it for this purpose for centuries. Europeans and European settlers in North America have been using it as a curative for sore throat symptoms since the late 1700’s. Black cohosh likely accomplishes this by relieving swelling.
If you experience extreme energy drain during menstruation or are dealing with the hormonal swings of menopause, black cohosh may help give you a boost via its purported estrogen-balancing effect on the body.
12.Natural Bug Repellent
Natives burn the black cohosh root to keep pesky bugs like mosquitos, black flies and deer flies away from their homes. Alternatively, you can rub a strongly brewed tea on exposed areas of skin to keep bugs at bay.
No studies have been done on infants or children as yet. Therefore, it’s recommended that you don’t give black cohosh to anyone under 18.
For everyone else the current recommended dose is as follows:
|Adults (18+)||Menopausal or Ovulating Women|
|Ground Root (Prepared as a Tea)||1000 – 5000 mg daily.||1000 – 5000 mg daily.|
|Standardized Extract (1 mg triterpene glycosides)||20 – 40 mg||Up to 80 mg for relief of cramps and mood swings.|
Limited Data for Black Cohosh
Like so many supplements and “superfoods” out there, there are thousands and sometimes millions of people worldwide who’re positive that black cohosh and other health-boosters are responsible for their improved well being. However, in the case of this supplement (which has an over two-thousand year track record), little scientific data yet exists for its efficacy in any area of symptom relief or health improvement.
Many experts warn that there hasn’t been any research to indicate what the long term side effects could be from extended use. For that reason, it’s recommended that products containing black cohosh only be taken for symptom relief or a performance boost as needed, and not for prolonged use.
Depending on which source you listen to, most claim that extended use beyond six to twelve months may offer no benefit, particularly to menopausal women, and could cause side effects that are at this time unknown. With all that said, many women take this supplement for years in place of prescription hormone replacement therapy and consider it a god-send.
Pregnant & Breastfeeding Mothers
One of this root’s main uses in days gone by was to induce birth in women. Large doses are generally required to make this happen, but there’s no guarantee that small, regular doses won’t cause premature birth. Avoid black cohosh, even in small amounts during pregnancy – until, and if you choose to use it for natural labor inducement.
Since there are no studies currently that can confirm or deny whether black cohosh is harmful to children, it’s not recommended that breast feeding mothers consume it until the baby has been fully weaned.
Black cohosh is heavy in salicylic acid, the same compound found in Aspirin for its pain and inflammation reducing action. While this is a benefit for some, if you have allergies to Aspirin, you’ll likely have the same reaction to the black cohosh root.
Liver Disease Sufferers
Few people have adverse reaction to black cohosh, even in doses way beyond what’s recommended. However, if you have impeded liver function your body doesn’t process supplements – or toxins very well. Ask your doctor whether it’s safe to take it if this is you, then start with the lowest dose listed above and never exceed the maximum recommended.
Note the potential side effects below that while rare, indicate you’ve taken too much or don’t tolerate black cohosh very well.
Black Cohosh Side Effects:
• Upset Stomach
• Visual Disturbances
• Slowed Heart Rate
• Increased Perspiration
• Convulsions (only 1 case of this has ever been reported)
Birth Control Pills
Black cohosh is renowned for its estrogenic properties which make it so effective at helping to ease the hormonal strain placed on women suffering from PMS or who’re dealing with the many disturbing effects brought on by menopause. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that black cohosh is a no-no for women who’re taking birth control.
Hormone Replacement Therapy Drugs
It’s unknown whether black cohosh is contraindicated with HRT or not. However, it stands to reason that it probably would be, since cohosh binds to estrogen receptors there’s good potential that your doctor would have extreme difficulty titrating your dosage of HRT. Take one or the other, but not both.
Hypotensive Drugs and Blood Thinners
The Mayo Clinic has a warning about taking black cohosh with blood pressure lowering drugs (view warning). Consult your doctor whenever you’re taking medications and are considering taking any supplements.
Recommended Estrogen Balancing Supplements
Nature’s Way Black Cohosh Root
True to their reputation, Nature’s Way has developed this affordable and potent black cohosh formulation to help women who suffer from hot flashes, night sweats, cramps, hormonal acne and other complications brought on by menstruation and menopause. Each capsule offers 540 mg of pure ground black cohosh root. It’s 100% organic and contains no fillers or allergens with only 3 ingredients: black cohosh, gelatin and magnesium stearate. For maximum benefit, take this Nature’s way product as recommended on the bottle and combine it with a DIM supplement to really put the axe on your PMS or menopause symptoms.
Nature’s Answer Alcohol-Free Black Cohosh Root
This alcohol-free tincture is perfect for people who don’t like swallowing capsules. It’s made from organically grown black cohosh and standardized with 1 mg triterpene. Vegetarians will love this tincture because no animal ingredients are used to make it. They use a proprietary “Cold Bio-Chelated” extraction method to get maximum potency for estrogen balancing and symptom relief. Mix this in water, your favorite fruit juice, or drop it straight into your mouth from the included dropper.
Nature’s Way DIM-plus – Estrogen Metabolism Formula
This isn’t a black cohosh supplement, but one I believe should be used in combination with a quality black cohosh product for maximum benefit. This DIM (Diindolylmethane) formula from Nature’s Way is designed to balance estrogen levels in the body using diindolylmethane; a plant-based phytonutrient frequently recommended by Dr. Oz on his show and blog (see his writeup about DIM). DIM is also proven itself to be a superior antioxidant that may help to prevent certain cancers like ovarian and breast cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men. Please use this as directed as taking more than the recommended dose can cause intestinal upset.
There’s definitely an air of mystery surrounding the benefits of black cohosh. While it’s been used by women for years with much success, there isn’t enough test data out there for the medical community to reach a consensus, which means that FDA approval for this ancient estrogen-balancing, pain relieving, mood enhancing herb is a long way off.
If you’re looking for natural symptom relief from PMS, menopause, or health disorders like ovarian cysts and cancer that create an imbalance in estrogen levels, I highly recommend giving this curative supplement a try.
Native Americans haven’t use black cohosh for over two-thousand years because it doesn’t work!