Saw palmetto and black cohosh are two herbs native to North America used to treat hormonal imbalances. Black cohosh offers some relief from hot flashes, while a combination tonic of sage, licorice, chaste tree berry, saw palmetto and black cohosh are used boost estrogen levels in women.
Uses of Saw Palmetto and Black Cohosh
Both herbs have a long history of use throughout Europe and North America. Each appears to act upon the body's hormonal systems in different ways to boost estrogen levels.
Black cohosh was listed in one of the standard medical texts of the 19th century as a tonic for 'female problems', probably a euphemism for menopause. Today, European studies have demonstrated that black cohosh is effective at relieving hot flashes. It may also relieve vaginal dryness, night sweats, and other symptoms of menopause, and promote regular menstruation in women with irregular periods.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, M.D's website provides a lengthy discussion of black cohosh and its history of use and tests in Europe and North America. According to the information on Mercola.com, black cohosh is useful for easing many menopause symptoms including hot flashes and night sweats. According to the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, black cohosh has been used to treat arthritis and menopause symptoms. Traditional use also includes inducing labor but it is not recommended that women use it for this reason unless guided by a medical professional. Studies on black cohosh's use to relieve menopause symptoms reveal mixed results. Most of the studies to date have been conducted for six months or less, so long term efficacy and safety is unknown.
Saw palmetto may be taken by women who suffer from PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition in which small cysts grow on the ovaries. Each month, a cyst normally develops on the ovary to release an egg. In women with PCOS, clusters of cysts appear, and the ovaries may be enlarged. Women with PCOS often have trouble losing weight, develop insulin resistance or diabetes, and may develop other problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides.
Doctors don't know what causes PCOS, but hormonal imbalances may be one part of the equation. Saw palmetto appears to reduce a hormone called dihydrotestosterone or DHT for short. DHT is produced from testosterone. Saw palmetto appears to blunt the effects of testosterone in the body, and women with PCOS produce more testosterone than normal. Women with PCOS often have very high amounts of estrogen in their bodies, and saw palmetto may lower the estrogen levels too.
It is also suggested for use by men who have an enlarged prostate gland. When the prostate gland becomes enlarged, it may press against the bladder and cause urinary problems.
According to NCCAM, saw palmetto has not proven to be effective in the treatment of enlarged prostates in men. Several studies show that saw palmetto is no more effective than a placebo pill.
For women seeking to alleviate the embarrassing hair growth related to PCOS, there are no conclusive studies showing that saw palmetto is effective. It is, however, a relatively safe herb according to NCCAM, and well tolerated by most, so it may be worth a try.
Herbal Menopause Symptom Relief
There are several products on the market where saw palmetto and black cohosh are combined with other estrogenic herbs, or herbs that mimic estrogen. Such products may offer women with mild to moderate menopausal symptoms relief. If you cannot take synthetic hormones or do not wish to do so, natural remedies including changes in diet, vitamins such as vitamin E supplements, and estrogen creams and herbal preparations may be useful. Talk to your doctor or visit an herbalist to discuss options and considerations when choosing herbal menopause products.
Cautions and Contraindications
Women with liver problems should not use black cohosh, according to the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. Black cohosh does not appear to interact with medications, but it is always a good idea to tell your doctor you are taking this or any other herb.
Because they affect estrogen levels, women with estrogen-dependent cancers or a family history of breast cancer should not take these herbs unless under the guidance of an herbalist, naturopathic physician or medical doctor.