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Black Cohosh... The Natural Estrogen

For menopausal women, the herb black cohosh might be their greatest medicinal ally.

Native Americans first used black cohosh by boiling its roots in water and drinking the mixture to aid against fatigue, sore throat, arthritis, and rattlesnake bite.

However, the herb had a bigger audience among the women, who used it for gynecological problems and childbirth recovery. There's a good reason for that. Several compounds in black cohosh's root-acetin, formonetin, and triterpenes-are estrogenic, or mimic the effects of estrogen.

Today, herbalists and naturopaths recommend black cohosh for several menopause-related problems, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and depression. It's also been shown to relax muscles, decrease pain, and soothe the nerves.

Researchers, write naturopaths Angela and Mark Stengler, aren't sure exactly how black cohosh eases menopausal symptoms. Some literature supports that levels of LH (lutenizing hormone) are lowered with black cohosh supplementation. A rise in LH is believed to be one reason that menopausal symptoms occur.

For those who might be skeptical of taking black cohosh, consider several facts. Germany's Commission E, which evaluates herbal medicines for that country's version of the Food and Drug Administration, endorses black cohosh as a treatment for PMS.

That endorsement is based, according to author Michael Castleman, on over 40 years of clinical trials and experiments. And Commission E, writes best selling nutrition author Dr. Shari Lieberman, is "the world's most respected and accepted scientific authority on herbs:" Those clinical trials have repeatedly shown the herb's effectiveness. In Germany, the Stenglers report that one study of "131 doctors and 629 female patients revealed that a standardized extract of black cohosh alleviated menopausal symptoms in over 80 percent of the patients within six to eight weeks."

In his book. The New Healing Herbs, Castleman writes that from 1982 to 1991 German researchers tested the effects of black cohosh on nearly 1,200 women. All of the trials produced the same results: briefer hot flashes, less vaginal dryness, improved mood. and relief from fatigue.

A 1986 FDA report on black cohosh warned of potentially hazardous side effects, though the report might have used information taken during improperly conducted trials in the 19th century. The biggest problem now seems to be women reporting a mild upset stomach when they first start taking black cohosh.

And there's even better news: Studies have shown that women with breast cancer can safely use the herb.

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