The non-estrogenic alternative for the treatment of climacteric complaints: Black cohosh (Cimicifuga or Actaea racemosa).
In postmenopausal women estrogens in combination with progestins have beneficial effects on climacteric complaints and on osteoporosis but this hormone replacement therapy (HRT) bears the risk of increased mammary carcinomas and cardiovascular diseases. Phytoestrogens at low doses have little or no effects on climacteric complaints, at high doses they mimic the effects of estrogens. Therefore other plant derived substances are currently intensively investigated. Extracts of the rhizome of black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa=CR) did not bind to estrogen receptors and were shown to be devoid of estrogenic effects on mammary cancer cells in vitro and on mammary gland and uterine histology in ovariectomized rats. In addition in this rat model the special extract CR BNO 1055 inhibited the occurrence of hot flushes and development of osteoporosis. In postmenopausal women CR BNO 1055 reduced major climacteric complaints as effectively as conjugated estrogens and significantly more than placebo. Similar data were published for other European CR preparations whereas 2 US American preparations were ineffective. This was most likely due to the too high doses or due to the adulteration with Asian Cimicifuga preparations. In all European studies neither effects in the uterus nor in mammary glands were observed. The effective compounds in CR are most likely neurotransmitter-mimetic in nature: dopaminergic, noradrenergic, serotoninergic and GABAergic effects were demonstrated and some have been structurally identified. We conclude that CR extracts at low doses are effective to ameliorate climacteric complaints but are devoid of adverse estrogenic effects. These finding strengthens the role of CR extracts as substitutes for HRT. This article is part of a special issue entitled: Special Issue on Phytoestrogens.