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Black Cohosh for Menopause Hot Flashes? Think Again

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A remedy of all ailments, black cohosh has saturated the shaman scene for centuries. Native Americans swore by its medicinal powers, using it on everything from sore throats to depression. Menopause however, was a more recent addition to this mile-long differential.

Citing its estrogenic properties, supporters of black cohosh claim that the plant will cure hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause. But more recent research, including a new double-blinded randomized control trial in the journal, Menopause, states that this simply isn't true.

The study looked at 90 women with vasomotor symptoms from menopause, including both hot flashes and night sweats, and randomized them to receive treatment with either black cohosh, red clover, placebo pills, or hormone replacement therapy.

Surprisingly (or not surprisingly, depending on which camp you're in), the placebo pills worked 60-percent of the time. Black cohosh had a 34-percent reduction of symptoms and red clover had a 57-percent reduction. What that means is that using the gold standard of testing symptoms, researchers found that black cohosh and red clover were no better than fake sugar pills in treating hot flashes and night sweats.

Hormone therapy on the other hand (using a combination of conjugated equine estrogens and medroxyprogesterone acetate) had a 94-percent reduction.

The research is pretty convincing, but many women may still look at these numbers and say, well, it worked for me. In those cases, and given that placebo pills actually worked better than either plant supplement, it's more likely that their symptoms were relieved by something else (exercise, changes in diet or alcohol consumption, etc.).

The good news however, is that it doesn't appear that either plant product is harming anyone, at least over 12 months, which was the duration of the study. But there aren't any longer-term studies looking at the safety of black cohosh use in humans, so it's worth keeping that in mind if you plan to use the supplement for several years.

Finally, there's the argument of establishment. Black cohosh is an age-old remedy, one that healers have used for centuries.

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EmpowHER Guest

I had tried all kinds of various over the counter treatments for hot flashes. Hot flashes doesn't begin to express what these things are like. You can't even think during one - you feel like there are hot coals on the inside of your body going outward. After 2 years of trying different things - I used black cohash - and it started working within 2 days even though I really didn't expect it too. So many of the health stores I went to, wanted to start me on a plethora of vitamins, none of which ever helped. Soy didn't seem to help, neither did the over the counter products from retail stores. Then my gyn tells me I really need to be on the estrogen to keep my bones strong, be heart healthy, etc. -- so i start all over again. nothing works. pills. shots. sprays. some work for a month or two months. some take a month to work then couple months later back to square one. what to do?? do i ignore my dr. and go back to the black cohash? Most women my age don't seem to be having it as severe as I am, or as my mother before me did. My mother is still on meds and still has hot flashes at 68 years of age!

February 4, 2011 - 7:28pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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