Counterfeit to blame for Danish black cohosh warning?

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Black cohosh, European union

A recently issued consumer warning against menopausal herb, black cohosh, by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA) may be based on false pretences according to a US-based herbals expert.

The DVFA warning issued last month warned consumers off black cohosh due to unspecified liver toxicity concerns and cited black cohosh as Aristolochiaceae​ when it is in fact known as Actaea racemosa​ (formerly Cimicifuga racemosa​).

Steve Dentali, chief science officer at the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), said it was possible black cohosh was being blamed for potential problems that were linked to Aristolochiaceae​.

“There is no real botanical connection between black cohosh and ​Aristolochiaceae which is a different plant family from where black cohosh resides,“ ​Dentali said.

However the black cohosh adulterants are located within the same genus as black cohosh and these other Actaea​ extracts and plants have been found by agencies such as Health Canada to be commonly used as counterfeit material for black cohosh, which may explain the situation.

Consumption of such products has led to “probable” or “possible” liver toxicity events according to Health Canada.

A DVFA spokesperson said the agency was investigating the matter. Presently, no record of the notice can be found on the DVFA website.

Black cohosh is feely available in most European Union member states with mandatory warning labels in some, but the herb remains on a ‘yet to be proven safe’ list in Denmark.

It issued the warning after it traced ownership of Danish language websites selling black cohosh products to France, the UK and the Netherlands.

The DVFA contacted agencies in those countries as well as ther European Commission with the aim of implementing some kind of EU-wide rule for black cohosh.

In its warning the DVFA stated: “Food Administration warns consumers against buying supplements containing extracts of the dangerous plant variety which is suspected to cause liver damage. Several sites on the Internet encourage Danish consumers to purchase dietary supplements with the dangerous herbal ingredient.”

However, DVFA said it had no information about consumption levels of the products, nor records of adverse events.

Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council said recently no compelling evidence existed linking black cohosh to liver problems.

“No hepatotoxic compounds are known to be present in black cohosh,” ​Blumenthal said.

“Materials have been introduced into the market as ‘black cohosh’. This includes, but is probably not limited to, Chinese species in the genus Actaea, the same genus as black cohosh. Such plants are not true black cohosh.”

However hepatotoxic​label warnings are now required in countries such as the UK and Australia and the substance is banned in Lithuania.

In the EU, the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) of the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) identified three ‘possible’ and two ‘probable’ hepatotoxic cases out of 44 surveyed recently.

A subsequent review of these five adverse events found causality lacking in four of them, and no confirmation of black cohosh identity was determined.

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