In the News

Black Cohosh May Not Be Safe for Women with Breast Cancer

Research results released by the Mylan School of Pharmacy at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh indicate that the dietary supplement herbal extract black cohosh, one of the most widely used alternative therapies for women experiencing menopausal symptoms, may not be a safe alternative therapy for women with breast cancer and may be undesirable for women who could have undetected breast tumors.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation funded the study, which was presented at the 94th annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research held in Washington, DC.

Researchers used a transgenic mouse model in which the female mice spontaneously develop mammary tumors through the activation of an oncogene common in human breast cancer. These mammary tumors spread in time to other parts of the body, as occurs with invasive breast cancer. To determine the effect of black cohosh on these processes, researchers fed the mice the herbal extract in a dosage comparable to women ingesting 40 mg/d (the amount of a standardized herbal supplement normally recommended for menopausal symptoms). The sexually mature female mice were fed the black cohosh diet for 12 months.

In black cohosh-treated female mice, the incidence of new tumors was not increased, suggesting that black cohosh will not increase or decrease a women’s risk of developing breast cancer. However, in the mice that developed mammary tumors, there was an increase in the number of tumors that spread to the lung (27.1% of treated mice compared to 10.9% of the mice on the control diet). The increase in the number of lung tumors per female after long-term exposure to black cohosh suggests that this herbal therapy may increase the aggressiveness of the mammary cancer.

The data presented suggest that black cohosh (at normal doses recommended for women with menopausal symptoms) may promote progression to metastatic disease in women with early-stage breast cancer.

Viga and Viga for Women Tablets Recalled

Health Nutrition (RMA Laboratories) in Paramount, CA, is warning its consumers not to purchase or consume the products known as Viga and Viga for Women. These products, which are marketed as dietary supplements, contain the unlabeled drug ingredient sildenafil, which may pose possible serious health risks to some users. Viga is sold in bottles of 30 tablets, and in packets of four tablets (10 packets in one box). Viga for Women is sold in bottle of 20 tablets. Both products are distributed by Health Nutrition and sold without medical prescription.

The interaction between nitrates and sildenafil can result in life-threatening lowering of blood pressure. The potential for this product to be taken by unknowing nitrate users is real since sexual dysfunction often is a concurrent condition in patients with diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, smokers, and patients with ischemic heart disease.

Consumers who have purchased Viga or Viga for Women tablets are urged to discontinue their use immediately and return them to the place of purchase or directly to Health Nutrition (RMA Laboratories), 6439 Alondra Blvd., Paramount, CA 90723. Consumers with questions regarding this recall may contact the company at (562) 616-0100. Consumers who have purchased this product and have medical concerns should consult with their health care provider.

Herbal Product Label May Not Accurately Reflect Contents

Buyers of herbal supplements would be smart to question whether the product label is an accurate representation of what’s inside, says the June 7 issue of Science News.

The journal recounts several instances in which researchers analyzed herbal products and found that the results did not support the promise of the label. A researcher from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, for instance, wanted to see which species of purple coneflower—Echinacea pallida, Echinacea purpurea, and Echinacea angustifolia—was used by three suppliers to develop the popular over-the-counter herbal supplement echinacea.

The researcher was surprised to find that one supply of the product contained almost no echinacea from any species. The other two contained E. pallida, but they had contaminating plants, as well. The researcher then analyzed 59 commercial products from local stores and found that none offered consumers what its label had promised. Six contained no evidence of any echinacea, and 28 failed to contain the specific species that was listed on the box. Some offered echinacea in quantities exceeding or, more often, falling below the quantity on the label, sometimes substantially. (The results of this analysis can be found in the March 24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.)