Black cohosh may someday be prescribed to reduce hot flashes. A recent study suggests the herb seems to work as a safe alternative to hormone replacement therapy. HRT, which has recently been linked to an increased risk of diseases such as breast cancer and stroke, is thought to be dangerous because it targets estrogen receptors. Cohosh, by contrast, interacts with serotonin receptors, part of the brain's thermostat.
"This alternative could work," says author Judy Bolton, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In her tests with rats, black cohosh did not interact with estrogen receptors. Instead, it targeted the part of the brain that regulates body temperature: serotonin receptors. Antidepressants--which are believed to reduce to hot flashes--also influence this system.
Bolton warns that the study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, is preliminary and should not be overstated. A one-year clinical trial is now underway to show if the herb actually reduces the number and intensity of hot flashes in women.
"We have a long way to go to determine if this is applicable to people at all," she says.