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  April 12, 2004

Researcher Testing Popular
Treatment For Menopause Symptoms

The efficacy of an herbal supplement containing black cohosh as a treatment for menopause symptoms is being tested by Dr. Karen Prestwood, in a placebo-controlled study.

Black cohosh has been used by women for years to treat menopausal symptoms; especially the draining hot flashes that make them sweat and turn red when they least expect it. The plant, Cimicifuga racemosa, is a perennial that is a member of the buttercup family and is native to North America. It was used in American Indian medicine to treat a variety of illnesses, ranging from gynecological disorders to malaria and sore throats.

Image: Herb

"Natural supplements have been available on the market for years, but, despite their popularity, it is unclear which ones work best," says Prestwood, an associate clinical professor at the UConn Center on Aging. "Many women prefer natural treatments, especially since a large government study concluded that the risks of long-term hormone replacement therapy outweigh the benefits."

The herbal supplement under study, Estroven, is manufactured by Amerifit Nutrition of Bloomfield, which is sponsoring and funding the research. "The company believes it has a good product and it would like to be able to demonstrate the beneficial effects on menopausal symptoms in a randomized, controlled study," says Prestwood, who has a long-standing interest in applying scientific scrutiny to alternative and complementary medical therapies. She is also studying the effect of soy protein on bone growth in older women.

To participate in the study, women must be between 40 and 65 years of age, must have gone through natural menopause, and must be experiencing moderate to extreme post-menopausal symptoms. Additionally, they may not be using hormone replacement therapy or herbal supplements with soy or other phytoestrogens. Participants will be asked to take one of three treatments for a total of 14 weeks, with an option to continue in the study for an additional 12 weeks. They will also be asked to maintain a diary to track menopausal symptoms throughout their participation.

Treatments and lab testing are provided at no charge to volunteers, who may choose to receive a free three-month supply of the herbal supplement at the end of their participation.

The treatments are either a placebo, or one of two herbal supplements containing black cohosh and isoflavones in different strengths and in different combinations with ingredients like B vitamins, calcium, or cranberry juice. "We will be looking at the effects on hot flashes as well as on other symptoms of menopause, like sleep disturbance and the foggy brain feeling," says Prestwood.

"Women come to me wondering what they can do about their hot flashes and their other menopause symptoms, which can last for years," she says. "It would be great to be able to offer them something that works without causing worrisome side effects."

Women who are interested in participating in the study or would like more information about it may call the Center on Aging at 860.679.3043.