Black cohosh is a readily available dietary supplement currently marketed as a remedy for dysmenorrhea and menopausal symptoms and is one of the top-selling herbal supplements in the United States. Black cohosh extract (BCE) was nominated to the National Toxicology Program (NTP) by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences due to its widespread use and lack of animal toxicity studies. Results of the NTP BCE subchronic mouse toxicity study revealed a dose-dependent, non-regenerative decrease in the erythron with an increase in the mean corpuscular volume (macrocytosis). Howell-Jolly bodies, or micronuclei, were significantly increased. These particular changes indicated an ineffective erythropoiesis consistent with a condition known as megaloblastic anemia. Megaloblastic anemia is due to disruptions in DNA synthesis during hematopoiesis and can be a result of an inherited or drug-induced disorder or a consequence of folate or cobalamin deficiency. Subsequent mouse studies revealed hematological and biochemical changes that were consistent with a functional cobalamin deficiency. This article will review basic mechanisms and laboratory features of megaloblastic anemia. The results of our studies including morphological abnormalities of the erythron and biomarkers of folate and cobalamin deficiencies, as well as hepatic microarray gene changes, are also discussed.
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