Medicinal Plants

Black Cohosh (Actaea Racemosa or Cimicifuga Racemosa)

Black Cohosh is also called black snakeroot and black bugbane in English and botanical name is Actaea Racemosa and botanical synonym is Cimicifuga Racemosa). Black Cohosh, or Actaea Racemosa, is a species of flowering plant that belonged to the family Ranunculaceae. It possesses several bioactive compounds that can help in the treatment of a range of disorders. The roots and rhizomes of this plant are particularly used for treating diseases. The extracts from this plant possess analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and sedative properties. It is commonly used in the treatment of symptoms associated with menopause. It can also be used to treat cancer. Patients suffering from osteoporosis and immunological diseases can also use this herb.

Phytochemistry (Chemical Composition)

Black Cohosh contains several organic compounds that produce a biological activity in the body. It contains certain estrogenic compounds that help in improving the vasomotor symptoms in the menopausal women.

The clinically relevant physiological effect of Black Cohosh is believed to be due to the presence of compounds that bind to the serotonin receptors resulting in their activation. These compounds also cause activation of the derivative of serotonin that has a high affinity for the serotonin receptors.

Several complex biological molecules including triterpene glycosides are present in Black Cohosh.

Black Cohosh Benefits and Uses

Black Cohosh is commonly used in the treatment of menopausal symptoms. It can also be used to treat cancer. The use of this herb has been found to be beneficial for reducing the risk of osteoporosis-induced fractures. It can also provide relief from the symptoms of immunological disorders.

Black Cohosh for Menopausal Symptoms

Black Cohosh is primarily used for relieving the symptoms of the menopausal syndrome. Menopause marks the phase in a life of women when the menstrual cycles stop.

Several hormonal changes occur in their body during this phase because of which they experience numerous disturbing symptoms such as night sweats, mood fluctuations, hot flashes, disturbed sleep, and cognitive changes. Black Cohosh helps to relieve these symptoms in a safe and effective manner.

How Does Black Cohosh Work in Menopausal Symptoms?

Black Cohosh helps to treat menopausal symptoms by correcting the imbalance of hormones in the body. It contains some estrogenic compounds, which mimic the effect of the female hormone, estrogen, produced in the body. This helps to minimize the symptoms that occur due to the fluctuating levels of these hormones during menopause.

Research studies for the use of Black Cohosh in Menopausal Symptoms

The efficacy of Black Cohosh in the management of menopausal symptoms was assessed during research. The study was aimed at reviewing the evidence related to the efficacy of the herbal preparations containing this herb for the management of menopausal symptoms.

This double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial involved the participation of 84 early post-menopausal women. The Greene Climacteric Scale score of the participants was in the range of 15 to 42.

The test group of women was treated with 6.5 mg of the dried extract obtained from the roots of Black Cohosh per day for 8 weeks. The control group was administered placebo in equal quantity for 8 weeks. Prior to the treatment and at the end of the 4th and the 8th weeks, the Greene Climacteric Scale scores of the participants were recorded at baseline. The data analysis was performed using a general linear model.

The results of this study indicated a marked reduction in the Greene Climacteric Scale total score in the test group as compared to the same in the control group at the end of both the 4th and the 8th weeks.

The test group also showed a significant improvement in the symptoms of menopause at the physical, vasomotor, and psychiatric levels as compared to the control group.

The differences in the Greene Climacteric Scale score between the test group and control group at the 8th week were significantly higher than those at the 4th week in terms of the total score and the vasomotor subscale scores.

This study concluded that Black Cohosh could be used for the management of menopausal symptoms. It could reduce the Greene Climacteric Scale total score as well as the subscale score. Also, the treatment with Black Cohosh was found to be safe as no side effects were reported. (1)

Black Cohosh for Osteoporosis

Black Cohosh has been found to be beneficial in the management of osteoporosis. It is a disorder affecting the bones and is characterized by a reduced bone mineral density. It makes the bones fragile due to which they become susceptible to fractures.

The risk of osteoporosis increases after the age of 35 years. The risk rises considerably in the women after menopause. The other key risk factors for this condition include a family history, lack of exercise, deficiency of calcium and vitamin D, cigarette smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, and low body weight.

Black Cohosh can help to improve the bone mineral density and prevent the occurrence of osteoporosis. It is particularly beneficial for treating osteoporosis in the menopausal women.

It increases the strength of the bones and prevents them from getting fragile or porous. The risk of osteoporosis is higher in the menopausal women due to the changes in the levels of hormones occurring in the body during this phase. This results in the hastening of the processes that lead to the bone loss thus leading to osteoporosis. Black Cohosh maintains the hormonal balance and prevents the bone loss in these women.

How Does Black Cohosh Work in Osteoporosis?

Black Cohosh helps to prevent Osteoporosis in the menopausal women by producing an action similar to that of the female hormone, estrogen. The imbalance of estrogen during menopause is the primary factor responsible for the development of this condition in them. Black Cohosh possesses estrogen-like compounds, which help to restore the balance of the female hormones and thus, reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

It also promotes the regeneration of the bones thus reversing the bone loss. This herb also has the ability to prevent further bone loss. This helps to prevent the progress of the disease and reduces the risk of fractures.

Research studies for the use of Black Cohosh in Osteoporosis

The effect of Black Cohosh on the bone turnover in the postmenopausal women was evaluated during research. The study was focused on assessing the properties of this herb that could be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

In this placebo-controlled, double-blind study the effects of the extract of Black Cohosh on the markers of some hormones, bone metabolism, lipometabolism, sex hormone-binding globulin, and the routine laboratory parameters were compared with those of placebo and conjugated estrogens in sixty-two postmenopausal women.

The markers of bone turnover such as bone-specific alkaline phosphatase and CrossLaps were determined from the blood samples of the participants. The other parameters that were assessed included estradiol, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol.

The results of the analyses of the bone turnover markers indicated that Black Cohosh could produce a significant beneficial effect on the bone metabolism that was comparable to the effect produced by the conjugated estrogens.

It was found that Black Cohosh could stimulate the osteoblast activity, whereas the conjugated estrogens inhibited the osteoclast activity. These results indicated that the use of Black Cohosh could be beneficial in reducing the risk of osteoporosis in the postmenopausal women.

The study also proved that Black Cohosh could promote the bone remodeling and thus, prevent the bone loss. (2)

Black Cohosh for Immunological Disorders

Black Cohosh is commonly used in the treatment of immunological disorders. The immune system plays a vital role in the prevention of several diseases. It protects the body against infections or damage in any form. The immune cells attack the bacteria and viruses and help to prevent infective disorders.

However, any abnormality related to the immune system can result in various disorders. A heightened response of the immune system can cause allergic diseases like asthma, and dermatitis. Similarly, a patient may suffer from autoimmune disorders when the immune cells fail to recognize the healthy cells and attack them resulting in their destruction. A weak immune system may increase the risk of infections.

Black Cohosh has been found to be beneficial in treating immunological disorders. It regulates the response of the immune system and prevents the allergic and autoimmune diseases. It also strengthens the immune system and enables it to fight infections effectively.

How Does Black Cohosh Work in Immunological Disorders?

Black Cohosh promotes the functions of the immune system. It stimulates the production of immune cells that play a role in fighting infections. It also modulates the response of the immune system to the allergens thereby relieving the symptoms of allergic diseases. It helps to treat the autoimmune disorders by regulating the functions of the immune cells and producing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Research studies for the use of Black Cohosh in Immunological Disorders

The immunomodulatory effect of Black Cohosh extract was evaluated during research. The study was conducted on the female mice that were treated with an extract of Black Cohosh in a dose of 62.5 mg, 125 mg, 250 mg, 500 mg, or 1000mg per kg body weight per day for 28 days.

The results of this study showed a significant increase in the liver weight in the group of mice that was administered the highest dose of this herb. A dose-dependent increase in the mean corpuscular hemoglobin and mean corpuscular volume were also observed.

A decreasing trend was observed in the Thymic T cell populations with the immature thymocytes showing the most significant dose-responsive effect.

The splenic natural killer cell number was decreased significantly in all the mice treated with the extract except those treated with a dose of 125 mg per kg body weight.

The cytotoxic T cell activity was found to be increased along with a rise in the mixed leukocyte response. The results of this study indicated that Black Cohosh could modulate the response of the immune system and hence, may play a role in the management of immunological disorders. (3)

Black Cohosh for cancer

The use of Black Cohosh can help in the treatment and prevention of cancer. It possesses anticancer properties, which help in preventing the growth and spread of cancer. It is particularly beneficial for treating the forms of cancers that occur due to the involvement of hormones such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer. It can reduce the risk of these hormone-dependent cancers when used on a regular basis. It can also help in the faster recovery of the patients suffering from these forms of cancers.

How Does Black Cohosh Work in cancer?

Black Cohosh helps in the prevention of breast cancer by producing an effect on the estrogen receptors. The high level of estrogen in the body is known to increase the risk of breast cancer. Black Cohosh regulates the production and effect of estrogen on the breast cells by altering the sensitivity of the estrogen receptors to this hormone.

It also stops the growth and multiplication of the cancer cells. It prevents the spread of the abnormal cells to the healthy organs in the body.

The inhibition of the growth of cancer cells caused by Black Cohosh can be attributed to its ability to induce apoptosis. The administration of Black Cohosh results in the programmed cell death of the cancer cells thus limiting the progress of the disease

Research studies for the use of Black Cohosh in cancer

The inhibitory effect of the Black Cohosh extract in the prostate cancer cells was studied during research. The extract of this herb was administered to the participants to evaluate its ability to inhibit the proliferation of the prostate cancer-derived LNCaP cells.

The ability of the extract to block the formation and proliferation of the tumor induced by the subcutaneous inoculation of the LNCaP cells in the immune-deficient mice was also investigated during this study.

After the mice had been inoculated with 1 million LNCaP cells, the development of solid tumors was observed in 12 among the 18 mice. However, the tumor development was observed in among 5 of the 18 animals treated with Black Cohosh. Also, the size of the tumor in the Black Cohosh treated group was significantly smaller than that in the control group of animals at the end of the 10 weeks following inoculation.

The histological inspections showed that the amount of abnormal tumor tissue in the control rats was significantly higher than in the rats treated with Black Cohosh.

This study proved that the compounds in Black Cohosh could inhibit the development, and proliferation of tumors when the healthy cells were exposed to the carcinogenic compounds. These findings indicated the usefulness of Black Cohosh as a preventive measure for the men who are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. (4)

Another study has proved the ability of Black Cohosh to inhibit the progress of cancer by inducing apoptosis. The extract of this herb was administered to the participants to evaluate its effect in inhibiting the proliferation of the breast carcinoma cell lines through the induction of apoptosis.

During this study, the antiproliferative activity of the extract of Black Cohosh (ethanolic and isopropanolic) on the estrogen receptor negative as well as the estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells was investigated with the help of WST-1 assay. It was found that the down-regulation of the proliferative activities and the cell killing by the ethanolic and isopropanolic extracts occurred in a dose-dependent manner.

The mode of cell death was confirmed as apoptosis by the microscopic inspection. The apoptosis induced by Black Cohosh was also confirmed by the light scatter characteristics and the detection of Annexin V adherence to the phosphatidylserine by the flow cytometry.

These results indicated that Black Cohosh could induce apoptosis of the estrogen receptor positive MCF-7 and the estrogen receptor negative cells. These findings point to the usefulness of Black Cohosh in the management of breast cancer. It can be used to prevent the proliferation of the cancer cells. (5)

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Dr. Jagdev Singh

Dr. Jagdev Singh (B.A.M.S., M. Sc. in Medicinal Plants) is an Ayurvedic Practitioner and Herbalist. He has successfully treated thousands of patients with Ayurveda (including Herbal Ayurvedic Medicine and Ayurvedic Diet). Ayur Times is an initiative of his efforts to bring quality information on Indian Medicine with the highest level of relevancy and scientific evidence.

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