NEW YORK, May 6 (Reuters) Some products now sold in the US as black cohosh don't contain the popular herbal medicine at all, a new study shows.
The herb has been used for several decades in Europe and North America to treat menopausal symptoms and some clinical trials have suggested it can indeed help treat hot flashes.
Black cohosh is becoming scarce in the wild, raising the possibility that manufacturers may turn to related Actaea species that are cultivated in China and can be obtained more cheaply.
While these herbs are used in Chinese medicine, they are not employed for treating menopausal symptoms, Dr Edward J Kennelly of the City University of New York told Reuters Health.
And right now, because it's not clear which components of black cohosh are responsible for its potential effects, there's no way to tell if the Asian herbs may also help fight menopausal symptoms.
''They do have similar compounds; it's a bit of a black box, really,'' Kennelly said.
To investigate the authenticity of black cohosh products now on the market, Kennelly and colleagues tested 11 different products.
Three of the products were made from the herb's cheaper Asian cousin and contained no black cohosh, they report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. One other product contained both Asian cohosh and black cohosh.
''Right now it looks like a number of products aren't really black cohosh,'' Kennelly said. He and his colleagues do not name the brands of the products they tested. However, he said, they have informed the Food and Drug Administration and the American Herbal Products Association of their findings. Kennelly also noted that some Web sites, like consumerlab.com, offer independent testing of herbal products.
''It's a little bit difficult for the consumer I guess at this point,'' he said.
Reuters DKS GC0930