Every month, millions of women suffer from premenstrual syndrome and its host of symptoms including bloating, irritability, headache, and emotional issues. Just as many other women deal with menopause and its symptoms every day, including hot flashes, mood issues, and vaginal dryness. In an effort to find relief, many women have turned to natural remedies to try to help them. Black cohosh, an herbal supplement that comes from an American wildflower in the buttercup family, has helped some women in their quest to feel better. But what exactly is black cohosh and does it really stand up in studies as a natural remedy for PMS and menopause?
The root of the plant is what is used to make the supplements, which are typically purchased in tablet, capsule, or tincture form. You might also be able to find it as an herbal tea in health food shops, but in general it’s not something that you would eat as part of your diet. Black cohosh used to be very popular in the early 1900s but then it became less commonly known and used. But now it’s gaining again in popularity and as a result, more research is being conducted on the herbal remedy to determine how it works and if it really does help us in any way.
Researchers have discovered that black cohosh is what is known as a Selective Estrogen Receptor Modifier, or SERM. In plain English, what this means is that black cohosh has been shown to bind to specific estrogen receptors in a woman’s body. Specifically, it works on the receptors that are found in the brain, vagina, and possibly the bones. Interestingly, it does not appear to bind to receptors found in the uterine or breast cells; this is good news because if these two receptors get too over-stimulated it may increase the risk of developing cancer. Black cohosh is also thought to work as a mild sedative and anti-inflammatory.
So how did black cohosh do when it was tested for its ability to help with specific health issues like menopause and PMS? Overall, it seems to have done pretty well. Some studies have found that it may improve some symptoms of menopause for up to six months. One large scale study of 304 women found that black cohosh helped reduce hot flashes better than a placebo, and other studies have some similar benefits. In general, the research was impressive enough for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to come out in 2001 stating that black cohosh might be helpful in the short term for treating hot flashes.
Stay tuned for the second part of this article, when we’ll look at other studies where black cohosh didn’t perform as well. We’ll also look at if it may help with PMS and its overall safety.