Study Led by Lehman Biology Professor Finds Mislabeling of Popular Dietary Supplement

BRONX, NY—Research led by Dr. Edward Kennelly of Lehman College has found that a surprising number of black cohosh supplements sold in the United States did not contain any extract of the black cohosh plant. Black cohosh is the eighth most popular botanical dietary supplement in the nation and is used by millions of women to treat hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.

Professor Kennelly, who chairs Lehman’s Department of Biological Sciences, led a team of researchers from Columbia University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences that tested 11 over-the-counter products claiming to contain black cohosh. All the products were obtained in the New York City area and tested between 2002 and 2004.

Their study, which will be published in the May 17 issue of the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, found that three of the supplements did not contain black cohosh at all, but rather a related plant species from Asia. A fourth contained a mixture of black cohosh and the Asian species. The findings are being reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates dietary supplements. The study can be found online at www.pubs.acs.org.

Black cohosh is a perennial plant indigenous to the eastern part of the United States. It was traditionally used by Native Americans to treat conditions like rheumatism, sore throat and menstrual irregularities. Because of the plant’s recent popularity in treating menopausal symptoms, it now faces the threat of overharvesting. Professor Kennelly suspects that this dwindling supply is the major factor that led to the use of the less expensive Asian species.

“The related plant produces many similar compounds, but we don’t know whether it is efficacious for menopausal symptoms,” says Professor Kennelly. “We also don’t know about its safety.

“In the U.S.,” he notes, “botanical dietary supplements are regulated as foods, rather than drugs. Manufacturers are required to follow good labeling practices, so this type of incident should not occur. Unfortunately, our study shows that, at least in the case of black cohosh, some products sold in the New York area did not adhere to these regulations. Consumers should be aware of this situation in order to make proper choices for their health care.”

Professor Kennelly is an expert on medicinal plants, and his work at Lehman focuses on understanding the chemistry of various plants used for women’s health and cancer prevention and treatment.

Contact: Keisha-Gaye Anderson, 718-960-8013