Need to determine if black cohosh can improve the quality of people’s lives as some claim

It’s a common herb that more than 10 million American women use to ease menopausal symptoms. Its benefits are touted all over the Internet. Yet, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved it as a drug, and researchers are unsure of its effects on the human body. A University of Missouri-Columbia researcher is hoping to change that.

“There is a lot that is unknown about black cohosh,” said Ed Sauter, associate professor of surgery. “One of the main problems is that what is available at the store is very unreliable. We tested a number of capsules and found that the concentration of chemical components differed from capsule to capsule. We need to research this question and determine if black cohosh can improve the quality of people’s lives as some claim.”

In order to demonstrate if black cohosh has any effect, researchers need to know the pathway that the herbal supplement enters the body and how it works once inside. Part of that pathway may be through estrogen receptors or other chemical mechanisms, but researchers are not yet sure.

“We’re very concerned that people are treating themselves without knowing what they are putting into their bodies,” Sauter said. “We know that a variety of plants, or botanicals, can provide substances that improve the quality of life. Many of our FDA regulated drugs are from various plants. However, research into the effects of this supplement, positive or negative, is limited, and we should understand how it works in our bodies before we recommend it.”

Sauter’s current study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is currently enrolling women in the trial. In order to be included, women must be experiencing menopausal symptoms, have had their last period six months ago or longer (or have undergone hysterectomy with removal of both ovaries), and currently not be taking hormone replacement therapy or be willing to stop the treatment before joining the study.

If invited to participate, women will ingest capsules containing a carefully analyzed preparation of black cohosh extract which is known to contain a consistent concentration of ingredients, for 12 weeks. Blood and breast fluid are collected to determine the effects of black cohosh on the body as a whole and specifically on the breast. The breast fluid is collected with a breast pump similar to what is used by nursing women.

“There is so much being done to understand causes and effects of new treatment options, and there are a variety of options available,” Sauter said. “However, before choosing any food supplements, you should always consult your physician.” http://www.missouri.edu

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