Side effects of black cohosh can be varied and dangerous - just like any other medication or natural supplement. For the best safety practices you should always let your health care provider know that you'd like to take black cohosh. Ideally, you should always use any herbal treatment or supplement with advice from a specialist either in natural or traditional medicine.
Black Cohosh Basics
Black cohosh is a perennial plant native to eastern North America. Normally it's found in woodland settings, but can be cultivated anywhere with the proper care and growing conditions.
Latin names: Actaea racemosa and Cimicifuga racemosa.
Nicknames: Black cohosh goes by many names; nicknames such as, fairy candle, black snakeroot, black bugbane, macrotys, bugbane, bugwort, rattleroot, and rattleweed. One issue to be aware of, is that black cohosh is also found in combination supplements. So, it may fall under a completely different name, such as "Black licorice root and cohosh", or any number of combinations. The best thing to do is to always carefully read herbal supplement labels so you know what you're getting, and in what doses.
Forms of black cohosh: This supplement is found in many forms. The root and stems of the black cohosh plant are used either fresh or dried to create medicinal herb tinctures (like a liquid supplement), pills and teas.
What is Black Cohosh Used For?
Black cohosh is often marketed as a remedy for premenstrual symptoms, and is one of the most often used herbs for menopause symptoms. Because herbal supplements are not studied as often or as thoroughly as traditional medications there are few studies to back up black cohosh as an effective gynecological problem remedy. That doesn't mean it never works though. Keep in mind that when it comes to herbal treatments, lack of evidence can mean little in actual effectiveness. Black cohosh has also been used as a remedy for other issues, such as sore throats, depression, kidney problems and more. One of the uses for black cohosh over the years has been as an abortifacient - which simply means it induces abortion. However, you should never, ever attempt to use any sort of herbal (or other) method as a means to end a pregnancy unsupervised. It can be incredibly dangerous and you're putting your health at a very serious risk. Abortion is something you need to discuss with a professional health care provider.
What Are the Side Effects of Black Cohosh
As noted above in uses for black cohosh, this supplement has been used as an abortifacient. This also falls under side effects of black cohosh though. Obviously, you never want to take black cohosh while you are pregnant if your goal is a healthy full-term pregnancy.
Some women use blue or black cohosh to induce labor, but most of that research to date is inconclusive. Many women and midwives do feel it's safe for labor induction, while some research says black cohosh can cause problems for the baby. If this is something you're interested in, be sure to research it thoroughly before making a decision, and always take it under the care of a professional health care provider.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a sub-organization of the National Institutes of Health, notes the following additional side effects of black cohosh:
- Headaches have been reported in some clinical trials - but not serious headaches.
- Stomach problems; usually mild discomfort.
- Black cohosh has been associated with liver problems. The catch is that the cases have been linked to individuals with hepatitis so it's unclear if the disease or black cohosh is the issue.
Black Cohosh Safety
While it may seem like black cohosh has few side effects and is perfectly safe, that's not an entirely true (or untrue) statement. The problem is that to date, black cohosh has not been proven safe or unsafe for nursing mothers or women with breast cancer. No long-term use research has been conducted. In fact the longest black cohosh trials have only been six months in duration. Some studies show adverse affects on babies who get black cohosh in their system, other studies show no effect at all. Additionally no drug interactions have ever been noted - but again, studies have not been long-term. To sum up, this does not mean black cohosh is dangerous, simply that, like many herbal supplements, it hasn't been completely studied. Plus, like all drugs and herbal supplements, black cohosh may be safe for some people, and not safe for others. Your best bet is to assume that black cohosh may be an option for you, but that you need to be aware of all of the potential side effects, monitor your use carefully, and always work with a care provider who has experience with black cohosh.